Pakistan’s Senate has struck down legislation governing the minimum age girls can marry, saying a Bill to increase the legal age from 16 to 18 was un-Islamic.
The Child Marriage Restraint Bill was rejected after Senator Sehar Kamran, the lawmaker driving the proposal, had her request for a deferment denied on the grounds that she would not be present.
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The chairman of the Senate Standing Committee, Rehman Malik, cited advice from religious scholars as reasons why he thought the committee should reject the Bill.
“I have also discussed it with religious scholars and they also believe that girls can be married before the age of 18 according to Islam, so these kinds of bills cannot be passed,” he said in the Senate Wednesday.
However, in a statement posted to Twitter following the vote, a spokesperson for Malik said the committee plans to reconsider the Bill and would seek further advice from “representatives of NGOs on Human Rights and Women’s Rights and renowned scholars of the country.”
Malik responded to criticism over his comments by saying that the matter “belongs to religious affairs.”
Speaking to Pakistani news site Dawn following the decision, Senator Kamran hit out at the delay and suggested that, in the same way as Pakistani citizens are not allowed to drive or vote before the age of 18, they should also not be permitted to marry.
“If the government thinks 16-year-old girls are adults, they should also be issued driving licenses and allowed to cast votes,” Senator Kamran said.
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Posting a copy of the Bill online prior to the vote Wednesday, the mission statement outlined the pressure on child brides to bear children.
“In developing countries, the leading cause of death for young girls between the age of 15 and 18 is early pregnancy,” the Bill read, adding that the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child suggests the minimum age for marriage should be 18.
According to Girls Not Brides, an organization campaigning to end child marriage, Pakistan’s National Assembly has rejected draft of the Child Marriage Restraint Act in the past, most recently in May this year.
The government has introduced other measures to curb the trend in a country in which 21 percent of girls are married before the age of 18, according to UNICEF.
In February this year, Pakistan’s Parliament sought to toughen the punishment for child marriage by introducing a mandatory five-year prison sentence and a fine of up to one million rupees ($10,000) for those caught marrying any girl under the age of 16.