Child marriage has been an unfortunate and endemic problem in Pakistan for as long as one can remember. According to UNICEF’s 2017 survey, Pakistan currently ranks at number 6 in list of countries with the highest absolute numbers of child marriage. More specifically, 21% of the female population of Pakistan is bound by holy union before the age of 18.
Pakistan’s Child Marriage Restraint Act has set the legal age of marriage – 18 for boys, and 16 for girls. Despite this, 3% of girls are forced into marriage before the age of 15.
Last year, a movement started by human rights activists demanded raising the legal age of marriage for girls in Pakistan to 18 years. The movement took hold enough that a Bill was presented to the National Assembly. The Bill was supported by Senators such as Marvi Memon and Sehar Kamran.
The Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) intervened and declared that establishing such a law would be “Un-Islamic”. Consequently, the Bill was unanimously rejected by the Parliament.
As part of the resulting uproar, many activists asked for the removal of Maulvi Sherani as the CII Chairperson. Ambreen Ajaib, a non-profit executive, claimed – “The argument that it is un-Islamic is invalid. The Council of Islamic Ideology never gets involved in anything to do with Islam. It just becomes active when it comes to women.”
The issue of child brides has once again been highlighted as the Bill is again been put forward to the Senate. Subsequently, Twitterverse started to trend with the hashtag – #raisetheage
Many notables and celebrities also took a stand against child marriage:
People took this chance to highlight the social problems brought about by child marriage, such as lower literacy and various health issues:
The demand this time around has been particularly compelling. This is because 11 muslim countries have raised the minimum age of marriage of girls to 18 years or above.
The CII was given two days time to reconsider the legal age of marriage. Today they agreed to establish a committee which will make comparisons of the law to those of other muslim countries and debate whether the Bill should be passed or not.
Seeing this law come to light is not an entirely hopeless cause. In 2014, the Sindh Assembly adopted a Sindh Marriage Act, which raised the legal marriageable age of girls to 18 years. And the defiance of said law, is now a punishable offense.