January 14th, 2021
By Ahmed Saeed
In a display of unity between treasury and opposition benches in the Punjab Assembly, women lawmakers have joined hands to end the menace of child marriages by amending the Child Marriage Restraint Act of 1929.
The proposed legislation will amend the colonial-era law to law to increase the minimum age of marriage for girls in Punjab from 16 to 18 years and make the National Identity Card a mandatory document to solemnize the marriage.
Speaking at a Voicepk.net’s show, Uzma Kardar, an MPA from the ruling PTI said that she first submitted the legislation as a private member bill a few years ago, but for some reason, it could not be tabled in the assembly.
Kardar, who is also a chairperson of the Punjab Assembly Standing Committee on Gender Mainstreaming approached the female MPAs and asked them to help her in this pro-women legislation.
“After garnering support from female MPAs belonging to both sides of the aisle, we then lobbied for the bill and met with every member and brief them about the gravity of the issue. The response from our colleague MPAs was very overwhelming as at least 278 legislators in the 371-member house endorsed our amendments”, Kardar adds.
The women lawmakers then approached Punjab’s law minister Raja Basharat and requested him to proceed with the legislation.
“After seeing the massive support in favor of the bill especially from the opposition’s side, the law minister owned the bill and promised to introduce it as a government bill in the assembly,” says Kardar.
She is quite hopeful that the proposed changes will become a law in the next few months after getting a nod from the Punjab assembly.
Bushra Anjum Butt, a PML-N MPA and staunch supporter of the bill says that changing the law to curb the practice of early age marriages is the need of the hour and should not ever be politicised.
“As a party, we [PML-N] we tried a lot to amend the law in our government and now we are fully cooperating with the incumbent government to pass the bill because it is for the good cause,” she says.
Although the minimum age of marriage for girls in Punjab is 16 years in most cases when a violation occurs the police instead of taking swift action to enforce the law tries to pressure the victims into a compromise.
Kardar agrees that even if it is illegal to contract a child marriage, it is very difficult to cancel such marriages due to its religio-cultural complications, and hence it is very necessary not to allow such marriages in the first place.
“In our amendments, we have proposed to make the act of solemnizing a child marriage an uncompoundable and non-bailable offense.”
According to butt, the proposed draft of the bill also imposes heavy fines on the parents of child bride and grooms to create a deterrence against child marriages. “But to bring real change in this regard, every segment of the society including media should sensitize the masses about the catastrophic implications of the early age marriages”, Butt says.
In 2014, Sindh was the first province to set the age limit for marriage to 18 years for both girls and boys. There had been a lot of resistance from religious segments calling it in conflict with basic tenants of sharia law.
To avoid such a situation in Punjab, Kardar and her fellow female MPAs have met with prominent religious scholars to make them aware of the scale of the problem and take them on board with this legislation.
According to Kardar, many of them not only welcome their proposed amendments but also assure their full support in the implementation. The women lawmakers also met with the Chairman of Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) Qibla Ayaz who is retired since November 2020, and sought his advice and support on the bill.
“Qibla Ayaz also supported our bill and actually, it was him who advised us to make a mandatory document as evidence of age at the time of marriage,” Kardar says.