–PTI ministers Ali Muhammad, Noorul Haq Qadri and Brig (r) Ijaz Shah oppose bill, say it contradicts Quran and Sunnah
–Shireen Mazari rejects colleagues’ opposition, says no individual has sole authority on religious matters
ISLAMABAD: The National Assembly on Tuesday passed the Child Marriage Restraint Act 1929 (Amendment Bill), as at least three ministers of Prime Minister Imran Khan’s cabinet vehemently opposed the legislation.
The bill was presented in the National Assembly by PTI minority member Ramesh Kumar, a day after the Senate approved it with a majority vote. According to the amendment, marriage under 18 years can lead to a fine of Rs100,000 and three years of rigorous punishment or both.
Objecting to the bill, Federal Minister for Religious Affairs Noorul Haq Qadri said that the bill is not acceptable in its present form hence it should be sent to the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII).
State Minister Ali Muhammad Khan said the bill contradicted the Quran and Sunnah.
“I openly disagree with the bill even if it costs me my position,” said the minister.
The sentiment was shared by newly appointed Minister for Interior Brigadier (r) Ijaz Shah.
Meanwhile, Federal Minister for Human rights Shireen Mazari rejected the opposition raised by her fellow cabinet members and said that nobody or individual has sole authority on religious matters.
“Jamiatul Azhar has given a fatwa against child marriage. Should we consider it un-Islamic?” the human rights minister questioned.
The deputy speaker called for a vote on the bill – which was later passed after winning by 72-50. The bill was then referred to the standing committee concerned.
The bill was presented in the Senate by PPP Senator Sherry Rehman, who told the House that according to a report by the United Nations Children’s Fund, around 21 per cent Pakistanis got married before turning 18.
She also pointed out that Muslim countries including Oman, Turkey and United Arab Emirates have already set 18 as the minimum age of entering marriage.
Sherry also apprised the Upper House of the fatal threat that underage marriages pose to mothers. “One woman dies in childbirth every 20 minutes,” she said, adding that the reason for these deaths were early pregnancies.
Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (JUI-F) Senator Ghafoor Haideri opposed the bill, saying that complicated pregnancies were not tied to age but poor healthcare. He argued that Islam allows marriage after puberty and recommended that the bill be sent to the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) before being discussed in the Senate.
“We are not promoting western culture, this is wrong,” Sherry Rehman countered, saying that the bill stated that any person younger than 18 should be considered a child and be prohibited to enter marriage.
Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) Senator Mushtaq Ahmad seconded Haideri’s suggestion to send the bill to CII, saying that setting an age limit for marriage would be “against the Shariat”.
Federal Minister for Religious Affairs Noorul Haq Qadri said that “there is no age limit for marriage in Islam”, reminding the House that a similar bill had once already been deemed “against the Sharia” by the CII .
To this, PPP Senator Raza Rabbani said that referring the bill to the CII would be “akin to sending it into cold storage”.
Sherry Rehman, meanwhile, pointed out that the bill had been endorsed unanimously by the Senate Standing Committee on Human Rights. Haideri, however, raised objections over the committee, saying that his party had not been extended an invitation to join.