July 18, 2020
By Ahmed Saeed
Pakistan’s Parliament should take every measure to strengthen and enforce laws regarding the minimum age of marriage and conversion of religion, said Sulema Jahangir, a dual qualified solicitor of the Senior Courts of England and Wales and an Advocate of the High Courts in Pakistan.
In an interview with Voicepk.net, Ms. Jahangir said that according to the Majority Act 1875 every person domiciled in Pakistan would attain the age of majority at 18, and only then will he or she be eligible to become a voter or be allowed to sign any commercial agreement.
“But the law does not stop a person below 18 years of age from getting married or changing religion, which are more important decisions of life,” she informed.
According to the Punjab Child Marriage Restraint Act the minimum age for marriage of girls is 16 years and for boys 18 years. In Sindh, however, it is 18 years for both sexes.
Section 4 of the Act criminalizes child marriage and proposes a punishment of imprisonment which may extend to six months and a fine of Rs50,000.
Despite the existence of these laws restricting early child marriage, some judges are still allowing child marriage to take place citing the reason that under Islamic law children are not minors after they reach puberty and can, therefore, be married.
Judiciary must enforce laws with consistency
Ms. Jahangir believes that the judiciary is not consistent regarding judgments in cases of child marriage and forced conversions, which is not acceptable.
“Judges have to follow the rules. Any law is only beneficial when we know how it will be applied. If one judge implements the law in letter and spirit but a second judge does not apply it in the same way then as a lawyer what should I expect from this legal system?” she questioned.
She said she could not comprehend how judges ignored the law for their personal views.
Sulema Jahangir urged the Supreme Court to take notice of this situation and give powerful judgments on these issues, which the subordinate courts must follow.
‘No law can separate children from their parents’
Speaking about the plight of forcibly converted girls, Ms. Jahangir said that after the ‘conversion’ the girls were not allowed to even meet, let alone live with their parents, only on the pretext of religion.
She said that no law prohibits anyone from living with his or her parents regardless of the religion they follow.
“No one needs to take permission from any court to live with their parents because no law can separate children from their parents.”
On July 9, 2020, the Sindh High Court (SHC) in the Mehek Kumari case, declared that minors who have ‘converted’ to Islam could continue to live with their non-Muslim parents. Kumari was allegedly abducted and forcibly converted to Islam to marry a Muslim man, Ali Raza Solangi, in Jacobabad in January 2020.
When the court summoned Kumari to record her statement, she said that she had contracted marriage with Ali Raza Solangi after converting to Islam, but now she wanted to go home with her mother because Solangi had ‘ruined her life’.
Ms. Jahangir said that in every case of forced conversion or child marriage, the court must ensure that the victim should record his or her statement without any influence and duress.