The Gilgit-Baltistan Legislative Assembly’s (GBLA) response to a bill seeking an end to child marriage is deplorable to say the least. The bill, tabled in the assembly by Parliamentary Secretary for Law Aurangzeb Khan, called on placing a ban on marriages of persons under the age of 18, but it was blocked and religious reasons were cited for the move. Even lawmakers on the treasury benches refused to endorse the bill on religious grounds. Deputy Speaker Jafarullah Khan felt it was acceptable for girls between the age of 15 and 18 to be married, while another lawmaker, Haji Rizwan, said the proposal went against divine laws. Among the opinions in favour of underage marriage was that of Minister Muhammad Wakeel, who said that the bill was against “local traditions”.
The problems and impact of child marriages have long been discussed, with Pakistan having an extremely poor record in this area. At present, 45 per cent of girls under 18 are married in South Asia, with Pakistan ranked sixth among 10 countries with the highest number of child marriages, according to the organisation Girls not Brides. These are statistics that we, as a society, need to be very worried about. It should be noted that in a 2014 session, the Council of Islamic Ideology had also declared child marriage to be unlawful.
Child marriage is a human rights abuse that has intergenerational impacts, especially when young girls, not biologically ready to be either wives or mothers, are forced with the burden of giving birth and taking care of another human life. Every time a child is married, we throw them further into the cycle of poverty and gender inequality, and snatch away their right of consent. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights has long established the right of consent in marriage, but in Pakistan we are still struggling to grapple with such concepts despite the fact that even religion places a strong emphasis on this aspect. The opposition to the bill in the GBLA is shameful and the assembly must allow it to pass. Who will protect our vulnerable children when parliamentarians themselves seek to curtail human rights?
Published in The Express Tribune, December 13th, 2015.