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Pakistan: Sindh Provincial Assembly Passes Child Marriage Restraint Bill

(May 23, 2014) On April 29, 2014, the Provincial Assembly of Sindh passed Pakistan’s first law prohibiting child marriages. (Habib Khan Ghori, Sindh PA Passes Landmark Bill Prohibiting Child Marriages, DAWN.COM (Apr. 29, 2014).)

The Sindh Child Marriage Restraint Act prohibits child marriages under section 3, which states:

Whoever, being a male above eighteen years of age, contracts a child marriage shall be punished with rigorous imprisonment which may extend to three years but shall not be less than two years and shall be liable to fine. (Sindh Child Marriages Restraint Act, 2013, § 3, Law Department, Government of Sindh website.)

The Act defines a “child” as “a person male or female who is under eighteen years of age.” (Id. § 2(a).)

The Act sets the same punishment for a person who “performs, conducts, directs, brings about or in any way facilitates any child marriage.” (Id. § 4.) A separate crime with the same punishment is also prescribed for a parent or guardian who “does any act to promote the child marriage or permits it to be solemnized, or fails to prevent it negligently, from being solemnized.” (Id. § 5.)

In late March 2014, a parallel bill was introduced in the National Assembly of Pakistan to amend the British colonial era law, the Child Marriage Restraint Act, 1929, to make the act of solemnizing a child marriage a cognizable offense and to provide stiffer punishments for contracting child marriages. (Child Marriage Restraint (Amendment) Bill, 2014, National Assembly website.) The bill also raised the defining age of a child for both males and females to 18. (Id. § 2.)

This national-level bill currently faces “stiff resistance” from Muslim clerics and particularly the Council of Islamic Ideology, a constitutional advisory body on Shari’a issues. (Naila Inayat, Muslim Clerics Resist Pakistan’s Efforts to End Child Marriage, THE WASHINGTON POST (May 16, 2014).) On March 11 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.COM (Mar. 12, 2014).) On May 22, the Council reaffirmed its ruling and criticized the Sindh provincial assembly for passing the Child Marriage Restraint Act. (Kalbe Ali, CII Endorses Underage Marriage, DAWN.COM (Mar. 22, 2014).)