PAKISTAN: Govt urged to increase legal marriageable age for girls

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[ISLAMABAD, 23 February 2011] - The Child Rights Legal Centre (CRLC) has urged the government to stop discrimination on the basis of sex alone, increase the legal marriageable age for girls from 16 years to 18 years, review the Child Marriage Restraint Act 1929 and expedite the efforts for adopting adequate legislative framework.

A press release issued by the organisation mentions that child marriage is an offence, which is committed explicitly across Pakistan particularly in the interior Sindh and rural areas of Punjab.

In Pakistan, the Child Marriage Restraint Act of 1929 is the basic law that extends to the whole of Pakistan and is applicable to all the Pakistani citizens. The provisions of the Child Restraint Act are simple, but it has failed in great extent to control the solemnisation of child marriage due to the weak nature of the provisions of the act. The age of marriage in Pakistan is 18 years for males and 16 years for females according to the Child Marriage Restraint Act of 1929. The difference in the age for males and females is discriminatory as Article 25 of the Constitution of Pakistan spells out: “there should be no discrimination on the basis of sex alone”. 

However, the Sharia’h uses puberty as a criterion for the marriages and does not specify any age for marriage. The Committee on the Rights of the Child has recommended amending the Child Marriage Restraint Act of 1929 in order to align the age of marriage of boys and girls by increasing the minimum age for girls to 18 years. The government is obligated to the implement provisions of UN Convention on the Rights of Children (UNCRC) in letter and spirit in Pakistan.

The statement further stressed that because of puberty criteria the prevalence of child marriage persists, and it leaves an open debate as what should be the legal age for marriage for females. Marriage involves certain responsibility and young girls cannot afford to shoulder these. Child marriage also fuels the risk of premature pregnancies, which cause higher rates of maternal and infant mortality.

Kashif Mirza, Programme Manager of Media at CRLC argues that if the civil rights, for instance the right to vote, and the national identity card, are provided at the age of 18 then why can the minimum age for marriage be raised to 18 years for girls. 

“Despite the age issue there is a need to review the Act, the punishment must be reviewed also. Under this Act the punishment incurred by an adult male above 18 years of age marrying a child is simply imprisonment, which may extend to one month only, or he may be given a fine, which may extend to one thousand rupees, or he may be incur both. This penalty seems mild for culprits involved in the heinous crime of child marriage.

The statement further mentions that attempts were made to curb child marriage when the Child Marriage Amendment Bill was submitted to the national assembly by a private member, Dr. Attiya Inayatullah in 2009. The bill proposed to increase the age of marriage for girls from 16 to 18 years and to raise the punishment for marrying a child from one month to two years, and the fine of Rs1,000 to Rs100,000. Although the Ministry of Social Welfare had supported the Bill and informed the Committee on the Rights of the Child that they were making efforts for its adoption, the Ministry of Religious Affairs maintained that the Bill goes against Islamic provisions and they would not support it. 

CRLC Executive Director Qindeel Shujaat was of the view that the issue needs to be debated at national level because child marriage affects more than just the young girls of today; the next generation is also at high risk of continuing the cycle, and the problem has far-reaching health, social, economic, and political implications for girls.

 

Further Information:

pdf: http://pakistan.childrightsdesk.com/?p=9058

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