Lahore: After 86 years, Punjab, the most populace province of Pakistan, has introduced Marriage Restraint Act 2015 on March 05, 2015, to curtail child marriages.

This is the first amendment after The Child Marriage Restraint Act 1929 when this bill was introduced by the British government in the subcontinent. According to the Act, the perpetrator will be punished with one-month imprisonment and PKR 1000/- fine.

The Punjab Law Minister Mian Mujtaba Shuja Ur Rehman told News Lens Pakistan that this amendment was introduced under the title Bachpan Bachao (Save the Childhood). The Punjab Marriage Restraint Act suggests that anybody involved in child marriage will be punished with PKR 50,000/- fine and a six-month imprisonment.

Rehman said, “Under the amendment, Nikkah Khawan would be punished with the same penalty as it was for child’s guardian.” “This amendment suggested Nikkah Khawan to complete all sections of the marriage certificate provided by the bride and her mother. This law also empowers union councils to grant license to any Nikkah Khawan which can be cancelled if anything happens against the law,” he added.

Director Save the Children Program, Arshad Mehmood told News Lens Pakistan, “Bachpan Bachao campaign was launched in collaboration with the Dutch Government in Pakistan. The suggestion, as provided by the Program, was accepted by the Punjab government stating that CNIC would be compulsory for marriage contract.” Mehmood added, “Just because of early marriages, the mortality rate of child brides is highest in Pakistan. Child marriages have very serious repercussions for both the girls and the society.”

According to the report of UNICEF (United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund), 24 percent of girls less than 18 get married in Pakistan. Justice (R) Nasira Javed believes that the actual ratio was far more than that. She explained to News Lens Pakistan, “The Punjab should have followed Sindh government’s initiative. Under the amendment of Sindh Assembly, conducting child marriage is a non-bail-able offense with three years imprisonment for both the guardian and Nikkah Khawan.”

The Chairman Council of Islamic Ideology Pakistan (CIIP) Mualana Muhammad Khan Sherani criticized the Sindh Government on amending Child Restraint Act 1929. He stated that girls as young as nine years old were eligible to be married if signs of puberty got visible.

Now CIIP, being a state institution that works as a constitutional body, has also held the new amendment in Punjab Assembly as incompatible to Shariah .

Hafiz Tahir Ashrafi also disagrees with this amendment. “There is no certain age limit in Shariah for marriage. According to Shariah, man or woman can get married as they reach puberty and puberty has no age limit, “ he told News Lens Pakistan.

The Member National Assembly, Marvi Memon differs with Council of Islamic Ideology. “Pakistan is not the only Muslim country where these amendments have been introduced to stop child marriages. Becoming a mother in the age of 15 to 18 is life threatening. It is also a fact that almost 80 percent cases of child marriages are not being reported in all provinces,” she said while talking to News Lens Pakistan.

Chairperson Independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan Zohra Yousaf is in favor of such amendments. “This law is according to the basic rights of women. As a matter of fact, the terrible practice of child marriages is still going on, but, at the same time, now our kids have the legal protection in the two provinces at least,” she said while talking to News Lens Pakistan.

“Pakistan is a signatory of Convention on the Rights of the Child and The Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women. In the wake of being part of such international conventions, Pakistan is committed to achieve the formulated objective,” she added.

Including Child Marriage Act, 11 bills had been passed by the Punjab Assembly but in the absence of opposition. Leaders of Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and Pakistan Muslim League (Q) are not happy with this amendment.

Member Punjab Assembly and the leader of PPP Faiza Malik told News Lens Pakistan, “It would have been different if it had been tabled in the presence of opposition parties. Sindh government is far ahead of Punjab as child marriage is non-bail-able offense there.”

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