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Pakistan: Child Marriage Bill Withdrawn

(Jan. 25, 2016) On January 14, 2016, Pakistan’s National Assembly Standing Committee on Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony met to discuss the Child Marriage Restraint (Amendment) Bill 2014.  According to a press release, the bill, which was moved by National Assembly Member Marvi Memon, was withdrawn at the end of the discussion. (Press Release, National Assembly Secretariat, NA Standing Committee on Religious Affairs & Inter-Faith Harmony Meets Today (Jan. 14, 2016), National Assembly of Pakistan website (scroll down page and click on heading to view).) The bill came under criticism from members of the Committee and officials from the Council of Islamic Ideology, a constitutional advisory body on Shari’a law issues, who considered it “un-Islamic.” (Maryam Usman, Bill Aiming to Ban Child Marriages Shot Down, EXPRESS TRIBUNE (Jan. 15, 2014); Kalbe Ali, NA Body Terms Minimum Marriage Age ‘Un-Islamic,’ DAWN (Jan, 15, 2014).) According to one report, Memon “was forced to withdraw her bid after it was rejected by a parliamentary committee on religious affairs.”  (Pakistani Clerics Block ‘Un-Islamic’ Child Marriage Bill, AFP (Jan. 15, 2014).)

Features of the Bill

The Child Marriage Restraint (Amendment) Bill 2014 seeks to amend the definition of a “child” in the Child Marriage Restraint Act, 1929, to mean “a person who, is under eighteen years of age.” (A Bill Further to Amend the Child Marriage Restraint Act, 1929, § 2, National Assembly website (last visited Jan. 15, 2016); Child Marriage Restraint Act, 1929, No. 19 of 1929, Sindh Judicial Academy website.) In its current form, the Act defines a child to mean “a person who, if a male, is under eighteen years of age, and if a female, is under sixteen years of age.” (Child Marriage Restraint Act, 1929, § 2.)

The bill sought to increase the punishments for adult males who contract a child marriage, to two years of imprisonment instead of up to one month and a fine of 100,000 rupees (about US$940) instead of up to 1,000 rupees. The bill also sought to increase punishments and fines by the same amount for a person who “performs, conducts or directs any child marriage” and for parents or guardians who promote or permit a child marriage to be solemnized. (The Child Marriage Restraint (Amendment) Bill 2014, §§ 3-5.)

Background on Anti-Child Marriage Legislation

In April 2014, the Provincial Assembly of Sindh enacted a law prohibiting child marriages, making it the first province to do so. (Tariq Ahmad, Pakistan: Sindh Provincial Assembly Passes Child Marriage Restraint Bill, GLOBAL LEGAL MONITOR (May 23, 2014).)  The Punjab Provincial Assembly was the second province in Pakistan to do so.  (Aroosa Shaukat, Child Marriages: Punjab Assembly Amends Law to Enhance Penalties, EXPRESS TRIBUNE (Mar. 6, 2015).)

A national-level bill prohibiting child marriage has previously faced “stiff resistance” from Muslim clerics and particularly the Council of Islamic Ideology. (Naila Inayat, Muslim Clerics Resist Pakistan’s Efforts to End Child Marriage, WASHINGTON POST (May 16, 2014).)  On March 11, 2014, the Council ruled that setting minimum age limits on marriage for both the bride and groom is against Islamic Law. (Kalbe Ali, ‘Marriage Age’ Laws Un-Islamic: CII, DAWN (Mar. 12, 2014).) On May 22, 2014, the Council reaffirmed its ruling and criticized the Sindh Provincial Assembly for passing a similar province-level Child Marriage Restraint Act. (Kalbe Ali, CII Endorses Underage Marriage, DAWN (Mar. 22, 2014).)