The Child Marriage Restraint (Amendment) Bill 2017 passed by Senate

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ISLAMABAD:  Senate Standing Committee on Interior passed on Monday three bills – including ‘The Child Marriage Restraint (Amendment) Bill 2017’ – which seeks to put restriction on marriages, especially of girls below 18 years of age.

The Senate panel also passed ‘The Criminal Laws (Amendment) Bill 2017’ seeking stringent punishment for misconduct in public by a drunken person. It also passed ‘The Prevention of Witchcraft Bill, 2017’, a first-ever bill of its kind.

‘The Child Marriage Restraint (Amendment) Bill 2017’ – moved by Senator Sehar Kamran – invited a lot of debate among members of the panel. The mover informed the panel that the same bill had already been passed by the provincial assemblies of Punjab and Sindh.

She highlighted consequences of early marriages, including the health-related issues, which girls may face after being married at an early age.

Chairman National Database Registration Authority (NADRA) Usman Yousaf Mobeen told the panel that identity card might be issued to applicants below 18 years of age, if required.

Senator Col (retd) Tahir Hussain Mashadi pointed out that the law concerning minimum age for marriage of girls already existed, with 16 years as minimum age. He, however, declared the bill a ‘very good legislation’ and backed restricting minimum age for marriage of girls to 18 years.

Senator Javed Abbasi and Senator Chaudhary Tanvir opposed the bill as they believed it was against the injunctions of Islam. When the chairman of the standing committee, Rehman Malik, asked for voting, the bills was passed by three to two votes.

The Criminal Laws (Amendment) Bill 2017, moved by Senator Chaudhary Tanvir and approved by the panel, seeks punishment for 48 hours detention, seven-day imprisonment and a minimum fine of Rs10,000 on misconduct in public by a drunken person.

The Prevention of Witchcraft Bill, 2017 says witchcraft is prevalent throughout the country and is causing significant harm to people, besides resulting in exploitation especially of vulnerable sections of society.

This bill strives to make the promotion, propagation or performance of witchcraft practices a criminal offence which causes ‘grave physical or mental harm’.

“Stringent punishment to those guilty of such offences will ensure effective deterrence, thereby preventing the recurrence of such practices, gradually leading to their eradication,” the bill says.

Another bill “The Protection of Rights of Transgender Person Bill, 2017” was sent to a sub-committee, headed by Senator Saif, for consideration and submission of a report to the panel within 15 days. Senator Rubina Khalid moved the bill.

The Timeline of Efforts Against Child Marriage in Pakistan

In 2008, during Pakistan’s review in the Human Rights Council, Switzerland had recommended Pakistan to do “everything possible to prevent early and forced marriage, and to recognize in its legislation rape within marriage”, but Pakistan has been slow in implementing this recommendation.

In 2010, the Supreme Court had taken suo motu action and directed the federal government on November 23, 2010, to legislate on Hindu marriage rights.

  • In 2011, the Parliament of Pakistan has passed the Prevention of Anti-Women Practices (Criminal Law Amendment) Act 2011, which also outlined punishments for anti-social practices like forced marriages, WanniSwara or Budla-i-Sulh, in which women (girls) are traded to settle personal, family or tribal disputes. The offences covered by the Act are non-bailable and non-compoundable.
  • In 2012, Rutger NGO had also initiated advocacy campaign for the amendment in the Child Marriage Restraint Act.
  • In 2012, Pakistan in its National UPR report to the HRC said that Pakistan has enacted the Prevention of Anti-Women Practices (Criminal Law Amendment) Act 2011 which has “strengthened protections for women against discrimination and harmful traditional practices. It criminalizes forced marriages, child marriages and other customary practices that are discriminatory towards women.”
  • In 2013, the CRM Pakistan has also launched a postcard campaign for the enactment of pending bills related to child rights which includes The Child Marriage Restraint (amendment) bill 2010. The CRM has printed more than 5000 postcards which are sent to the Prime Minister of Pakistan.
  • In 2013, in Punjab, Alliance against Child Marriage of various NGOs working human rights in Pakistan has been formed. The Alliance has held meetings with Parliamentarians.
  • In 2015, The National Assembly proposed an amendment in the Child Marriage Restraint Act 1929, which suggested an increase in the punishment of those who are found guilty of underage child marriage.
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