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Child marriage is a curse that affects both boys and girls. But in the case of girls, child marriage has several adverse consequences directly linked with the patriarchal culture in Pakistan.
There is considerable evidence of the damage the practice can inflict on the physical, intellectual and mental wellbeing of underage women. Girls in this country are typically married to adult men, sometimes much older than them, and are thus highly prone to marital rape and domestic violence. Such young females are also vulnerable to sexually transmitted diseases, pregnancy-related problems during childbirth and having unhealthy babies.
All this is patently unjust and wrong; no wonder, underage marriage is termed as a social evil. Marrying girls off before they are physically and mentally ready to take on these roles deprives them of their childhood and a fulfilling future. It ensures that they remain reliant on others all their lives, deprives them of their agency, makes them susceptible to abuse, and can push them to a cycle of poverty. However, the practice has always had its supporters among the more regressive segments of society.
The former chairman of the Council of Islamic Ideology, Maulana Sherani, reignited an age-old controversy by saying that laws defining a minimum age for marriage should be revoked. He opines that girls as young as nine were eligible to be married so long as signs of puberty were visible. Pakistan’s legislators, however, have shown common sense and appear to be in sync with the modern times. The minimum age for marriage remains 16 and 18 years for girls and boys respectively, barring Sindh where it is 18 for both — an exceedingly logical attitude consistent with the age of majority in Pakistan and the country’s global commitments to abolish child marriage. Other provinces too should follow suit.
On Thursday, a three-judge bench of the Federal Shariat Court rejected a petition against certain sections of the Child Marriage Restraint Act, 1929, that fixes 16 years as the minimum age for marriage, putting a stop to the age-old debate over an issue directly affecting the wellbeing of girls. The court stated unequivocally that setting a minimum age for marriage is not against Islamic injunctions, basing much of its rationale on the importance that Islam places on education.
Will antediluvian forces like Maulana Sherani take a cue from this verdict?