PTI, JUI-F join hands in rejection of bill aimed to curb child marriage

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Civil society, HR activists disappointed over govt’s failure to discourage underage marriages
Zubair Qureshi

Civil society of Pakistan has criticized the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Members of the National Assembly (MNAs) for rejecting a bill aimed at banning underage marriages in Pakistan i.e. of boys and girls below 18.
The bill was rejected by voting in a meeting of the National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Law & Justice held last Wednesday.
PTI MNA Riaz Fatyana was in the chair while the bill was moved by no one else but PTI’s own MNA Dr Ramesh Kumar. Ironically, opposition to a bill that has already been passed by the Sindh Assembly in 2014 and has a wide-scale acceptance in society came from PTI and the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) while Pakistan People’s Party MNAs and Dr Ramesh Kumar voted in favour of the bill.
It was in May this year when Dr Kumar had presented the bill in National Assembly seeking minimum marriageable age in Pakistan at 18. The bill however drew uproar from the party’s own MNAs and those of the JUI-F and the Speaker National Assembly had to refer it to NA committee on Law & Justice.
Even within the federal cabinet Human Rights Minister Dr Shireen Mazari, without caring for the opposition by two colleagues in the Cabinet argued in support of the bill and asked the chair to refer it to the committee concerned.
While expressing their deep dismay and disappointment over rejection of a bill dealing with an important issue Chairperson of National Council on Status of Women (NCSW) Khawar Mumtaz at a report launch said the members who opposed the bill needed to understand the sensitivity of the issue.
How can we expect children to take decision on marriage at that tender age, she asked.
Valerie Khan, a French Pakistani children and women rights activist when asked to comment on NA standing committee’s rejection of the bill, said it was irresponsible, ill-informed, disappointed to say the least, for elected representatives who claim to protect the most vulnerable and support a new agenda which is development-oriented and shameful for the country.
This act of the parliamentarians in rejection of ban on child marriages amounts to supporting bigotry and darkness. More work is needed to spread enlightened Islamic Jurisprudence & hold our law makers accountable, said Valerie Khan.
Dr Kumar while talking to Pakistan Observer said in Pakistan the practice of marrying off young girls is common, particularly in low-income families but action cannot be taken against offenders.
To stop this trend, Dr Kumar said the minimum age for marriage should be 18, Also a major cause of death of the girls between the ages of 15 and 18 is pregnancy, he said.
Iftikhar Mubarik Executive Director Search For Justice, a Non-Government Organization working for strengthening child rights and protection work in Pakistan said this is very strange that any child below the 18 years is not eligible for CNIC, Driving License and right to vote but the children can be married before that age, and the law is protecting this. Article 25 of the Constitution of Pakistan clearly states that all citizens are equal before law and there shall be no discrimination on the basis of sex alone. Is the discrepancy among boys and girls only with reference to marriage is not contradicting the constitution, asked by Iftikhar Mubarik.