Not for the first time, a heated debate broke out on the floor of the national assembly upon introduction of a bill to set a minimum age of marriage.

The primary opponents of the bill were Religious Affairs Minister Noorul Haq Qadri and Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Ali Mohammad Khan, who strongly voiced their reservations with the bill. Ali Mohammad Khan felt himself qualified enough to term the bill as ‘un-Islamic’, stating that he would resign his minister-ship if an un-Islamic bill was passed.

It appears that the esteemed Minister deems the laws of Egypt, United Arab Emirates, Bangladesh and Turkey, Islamic countries which have been our allies and who Prime Minister Imran Khan has stated he looks up to, un-Islamic as well, since there are similar restrictions on the age of marriage. To make such statements is to ignore in bad faith the pervasive problem of child brides and forced marriages that have existed in the subcontinent for hundreds of years, and are still prevalent today. To pretend that the matter is merely a religious one, and doesn’t constitute an extremely harmful social ill is to ignore the exploitation that occurs of young girls who are married off to strangers much older than them to pay off their parents’ debts, of spousal abuse, sexual violence and economic dependence that is common in early marriages due to the vulnerability of child brides and of the severe reproductive problems that teenage mothers face. Early marriage is not a tenant of Islam and for the Minister to term the bill a religious one and propose to grant the jurisdiction to the Council of Islamic Ideology, when the CII has already shown bias towards it, is in bad faith.

What is the most revealing part of this saga are the divisions within parties that exposed themselves during the debate of this bill. PTI’s Human Rights Minister Shireen Mazari was a strong proponent of this bill, yet her biggest opponent was her own party’s Minister. Similarly, most of the men of PML-N opposed the bill, while female legislators stood in support of it. It was only the PPP which unanimously supported the bill, for which we must give PPP due credit for its unwavering progressive ideals. We urge everyone to keep an eye out on how legislators reacted to this bill- it is an important indicator on who is truly progressive, and who still votes for under-age marriage.