April 30, 2019
ISLAMABAD: The Senate Monday passed the Child Marriage Restraint (Amendment) Bill, 2018, seeking amendment in the 1929’s Child Marriage Restraint Act, defining child is a person, who is under 18 years of age, and criminalising under age weddings.
The piece of legislation will now go to the National Assembly, where it is most likely to face stronger resistance from JUI-F, JI and other like-minded parties. The proposed law increases simple imprisonment from one month or with fine up to Rs1000 to rigorous imprisonment up to three years but not less than two years while the fine will be up to Rs200000.
The clause by clause reading of the bill, moved by PPP Vice President Senator Sherry Rehman, was marred by loud shouts of ‘no’, ‘no’ by senators, belonging to mainly Jamiat Ulema Islam (Fazl) and Jamaat-e-Islami, namely Maulana Abdul Ghafoor Haideri, Maulana Attaur Rehman, Mushtaq Ahmad and Maulana Faiz Muhammad. Minister for Religious Affairs Qari Noorul Haq Qadri walked out after he was not allowed to speak when the bill adoption process was under way.
Six senators left their seats and came forward in front of the Senate Chairman, Muhammad Sadiq Sanjrani’s dais, close to the Senate Secretary General Amjed Malik to register their protest, insisting the bill was against the Shariah and it should be referred to the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) for its opinion. They emphasised it must not be passed in the present shape. These senators also opposed fixing puberty age at 18 years. The chair had to expunge his observation that ‘the bill was passed unanimously’, after these senators pointed out their stiff opposition to it
The House witnessed a lively discussion prior to the chair putting the bill for clause by clause reading. PPP Senator Farooq H Naek contended that despite the law, the wedding would still be valid, if it involved a person below 18, but such act was being criminalised. He noted that if the related law was not the Quranic text, then it would be looked into and similarly, there was a way of ‘ijtehad’ and ‘ijma’.
The former chairman Senate also noted that there was no question of any debate, if the 18 years of age had been fixed in the Holy Quran. He said that 18 years had been fixed in the Pakistan Penal Code with regards to an offence, which is committed by an adult and anyone below it could be not be awarded death penalty. He supported voting on the bill.
Senator Sherry Rehman, who was the mover of the bill, said the fixing of age for child was imperative to discouraging (forced) child marriages and added that the age for obtaining a CNIC was also 18 years and so was the case for a person to qualify for being a voter. Senator Sherry referred to a number of Muslim countries, where minimum age for wedding had been fixed at 18 years and these include Bangladesh, Turkey, Morocco, Oman and Egypt while the Saudi Consultative Council had also recommended fixing age at 18. “Calling such issues the Western values is not incorrect,” she insisted.
Former chairman Senate Mian Raza Rabbani rose to clarify to the government, which at one point, appeared inclined to referring the bill to the CII, saying the bill during his term as chairman, was referred to the council, which was still pending. Then Senator Sehar Kamran had moved a similar bill previously in the House.
He also said that a similar bill had been adopted by the Sindh assembly and till to date, neither any individual nor a party had challenged it there. Senator Rabbani noted that sending the bill to the council again would be like putting it in a cold storage.
Earlier, Minister Noorul Haq Qadri recalled that a was introduced in the National Assembly in 2012-13 by Begum Attiya Inayatullah and Marvi Memon about which the council had observed that it was in conflict with the Islamic injunctions. It had also objected to fixing puberty age, saying it varied from person to person. And the bill was then withdrawn.
Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Ali Muhammad Khan played safe by saying that while the intent of the mover was indeed noble but it would be better to refer the bill to the council.
Senators Maulana Abdul Ghafoor Haideri, Maulana Attaur Rehman, Mushtaq Ahmad and Faiz Muhammad said that on the very first day, when the bill was introduced in the House, they had opposed it called for its referral to the council. They cautioned that its adoption would give opportunity to clerics to raise their voice from their pulpits that the Senate was passing such laws, which ran contrary to Islamic principles.
They insisted that fixing puberty age 18 was against the Islamic teachings and would encourage sins in the society. Leader of the House Syed Shibli Faraz said that he was present in the House standing committee meeting, which had deliberated on the bill and the viewpoint of the council was not clear; it was like running with the hare and hunting with the hound.