Pakistan has withdrawn a proposal to impose stricter penalties on those arranging child marriages after strenuous objections from clerics branded the bill “anti-Islamic” and “blasphemous.”
Blasphemy is a serious issue in Pakistan. On January 16 an Imam was arrested for inciting to 15 year old to cut off his own hand after a misunderstanding that led to an accusation of blasphemy.
The bill, entitled the ‘Child Marriage Restraint (Amendment) Bill’would have included “deletion of the word 'simple' punishment for those involved in arranging child marriages to 'rigorous' or 'two-year' punishment in the actual legislation” a Pakistani parliamentary source told AFP.
It would also have raised the age of consent from 16 to 18.
The Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) made those objections to the bill, prompting its withdrawal from parliament. The CII is an advisory body which advises the government on whether or not legislation is compatible with the rules of sharia.
In sharia the age of marriage is puberty and is not defined.
In 2014 the provincial assembly of Sindh unanimously voted to disband the CII after it ruled that men should be allowed to marry additional wives without the consent of previous wives.
What happened here is that an unelected purely advisory council successfully shut down a bill aimed at protecting women’s rights on the grounds that to do so violated their religion convictions.
If Pakistani democracy is to be secure and if women’s rights are to be safeguarded then extremist organizations like CII, which previously opposed things like DNA evidence in rape trials, must be stripped of their power over the government.