In an imperative and much-needed move, the Senate Committee on Human Rights unanimously approved a draft bill that is set to raise the minimum age for marriage from 16 to 18 years.
The new bill was presented to amend the Child Marriage Restraint Act, 1929, according to which the minimum marriageable age for girls was 16 years and for boys 18 years. It provides that a person marrying a minor is liable to a fine of Rs 0.2 million and rigorous imprisonment for three years. Moreover, it states that a court, upon receiving a complaint, can issue a stay order to stop the marriage.
According to the International Center for Research on Women, One-third of the girls in the country are married before the age of 18 and at least 1 in 9 are married before the age of 15. According to UNICEF, Pakistan has the sixth highest number of child brides in the world i.e. 1,909,000. Nearly, 21% of girls in Pakistan are married before reaching 18 and 3% are married before their 15th birthday. The situation becomes even worse when the girls are sometimes married off to men nearly four times their age and not even given the opportunity to refuse by their own family members.
Senator Sherry Rehman, who is also a member of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), which has already raised the minimum marriageable age to 18 in Sindh, said that “the incidents of child marriage are common in Pakistan and young women and their children are at risk every single day that this amendment sits in parliament. “This menace has already caused enough damage and will continue to ruin the next generation if not immediately stopped,” she warned. She is however happy to see the progress that all committee members were on the same page and said ‘YES’ to the amendment.
Traditional Practices and Customs in Pakistan are majorly responsible to perpetuate child marriages in the country, especially among girls. Child brides are not allowed to receive education and more likely to experience sexual abuse, domestic violence, malnutrition, teenage pregnancy, and its complications. It is no secret that the high rates of infant and maternal deaths in Pakistan have a very close connection with the early marriage of young girls.
While old beliefs and customary practices still pose a threat to this amendment let’s hope that the new law will bring an end to all the social evils and its enforcement would be an effective and expeditious one.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: This article is written by Shreya Kohli, our intern.