ISLAMABAD - A parliamentary committee rejected a proposed legislation that had sought to enhance the girls’ marriage age from 16 to 18 years. “The Child Marriage Restraint (Amendment) Bill, 2014” was presented before the National Assembly Standing Committee on Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony but majority of the committee members opposed the bill outrightly yesterday before it could be laid in the parliament for approval. The bill moved by MNA Marvi Memon in the National Assembly in 2014 was referred to the committee for discussion. The permissible age limit for marriage under the current laws for boys is 18 years and 16 years for girls.

The bill had also proposed to enhance punishments/fine in the existing Act on the subject, arguing that early marriage leads to early conception which ultimately affects the health of the teenage girls. Enormous pressure to bear children is put on child birds and early pregnancy is the leading cause of death for young girls between the age of 15 and 18 in developing countries. Yesterday in its meeting the committee was told that the Council of Islamic Ideology, Ministry of Religious Affairs and Capital Administration and Development Division had also not agreed with the provisions of the bill.

Only the movers of the bill, Marvi Memon, Kishwar Zehra and MNAs from minority had voted in favour of the bill. If the girls at 16 years of age are not eligible for voting, driving, and acquiring National Identity Cards how can they be eligible to take up the responsibilities of a married life, remarked MNA Kishwer Zehra. The bill was initially introduced by former MNA Dr Attia Inayatullah in 2009 but it lapsed due to dissolution of the national assembly. The draft bill had proposed the amendments in the current laws in Islamabad Capital Territory as the Parliament can only legislate on the subject at the federal level after devolution.

Early marriage is a widespread phenomenon in Pakistan. According to United Nation’s Children Fund nearly 37 percent of Pakistani women get married before reaching the age of 18 years mostly in South Punjab, Sindh, Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Civil society organisations have long been campaigning to end the discrimination and make the legal age the same for boys and girls for marriage.

The Sindh Assembly was the first platform in the country to pass a bill that declared marriage below the age of 18 punishable by law.