Who will protect children?
A parliamentary panel yesterday on the advice of the Islamic ideology council’s advice has rejected a bill prohibiting underage marriage. This is no new thing. However what is surprising is that PTI that has many progressive looking individuals in its ranks has given in to the pressure from the rightist forces and probably are themselves convinced not to stir the hornet’s nest by working on some progressive legislation. Particularly when the JUI-F is already baying for its blood.
A few months ago there was a discussion on the same subject in the upper house of the parliament. Senators from the religious right forwarded the view that Islam does not specify any age limit to solemnize a marriage therefore it was un-Islamic if any one tries to do so. They rather suggested reducing the age of puberty from 18 to 15, meaning thereby a girl could be married off at 15. One Senator Maulana Faiz Muhammad did not consider the Senate a forum worthy of discussing such matters and called for the same to be sent to CII.
The CII in 2010 had observed that the age of puberty varies and cannot be fixed. It has also been recommending starting an awareness campaign among the citizens about the negative impacts of early marriages instead of passing legislation. The council at best has been ambivalent about the issue. While it agrees that child marriage leads to various negative consequences and problems and that the practice should not be encouraged it asserts any legislation against child marriage and setting an age limit shall lead to many complications.
The Senate has already passed a bill to amend the Child Marriage Restraint Bill, 1929 to set the minimum age for marriage at 18 years. Many countries in the Islamic world have set the age limit for the purpose of marriage at 18. Islam leaves many issues to the collective wisdom of the societies. This is one such issue that needs deciding upon. It is no time to pander to the regressive mindset and PTI which already has dismal record in legislation has an opportunity in this to prove, one, it is pro children and, two, it is serious about legislative work.