The Senate Standing Committee on Interior passed the bill seeking to raise the age for marriage for girls from 16 to 18 on Tuesday. This comes as a surprise, since last week the same bill was rejected over concerns of it being un-Islamic. However, both the decision to reconsider the bill and the decision to pass it are good conclusions – as there are a host of valid reasons for each.
The first vote on the bill was flawed and hence it faced a lot of backlash because of three reasons. First, the voting took place without the mover, Senator Sehar Kamran. Second, the senators reached out to religious scholars in their personal capacity as the Council of Islamic Ideology (CCI) is without a head for over a year. Third, the move did not consider the abuse of young girls as the result of the previous Child Marriage Restraint Bill.
The reasons for passing the bill are even more numerous, and certainly more forceful. Firstly, it is an undisputed medical fact that early marriages lead to early conceptions, which ultimately affects the health of the teenage girls. The high rates of infant and childbirth mortalities in Pakistan are testament to the veracity of this fact.
Secondly, there seems to be no reason for maintaining difference between boys and girls when it comes to the minimum age for marriage. If 18 is considered the age where we can ascribe people with the ability to make their own decisions, legally enter contracts, buy property, and vote – essentially having become mentally mature enough to be considered adults – then why do we allow immature and societally inexperienced girls to be married off at 16?
This requirement will also solve the problem of girls years under 16 from being married off illegally, as age cannot be objectively verified with valid documents. An ID card requirement – which can be only issued at 18 – will remove all doubt and uncertainty from the matter.
The opposition’s greatest concern – the Islamic angle – is overblown. There is no explicitly mentioned minimum age requirement in Islam, the practice of marrying girls at a young age is localised customs and tradition. Secondly, countless Islamic countries around the world have set the minimum age of marriage 18, essentially defeating the argument that the provision is “un-Islamic”
If that is not enough Pakistan is signatory to United Nation (UN) conventions calling for the minimum age to be raised – our international obligations also compel us.
This bill will face a stiff challenge in the conservative Parliament, but it is important to remember the solid reasoning and the urgent need to secure this legal reform – the livelihood of our girls depends on it.