When police raided a marriage ceremony in Karachi on Wednesday (May 14) and found a 46-year-old groom about to marry his 14-year-old bride, the wedding didn’t come as a shock to most here in this conservative Muslim country — the raid did.
The bride told police her marriage had been consensual, police officials said. Her age was listed as 18 on the marriage certificate.
Marrying off girls as young as 10 is still a widespread practice in Pakistan, Afghanistan and elsewhere in Asia and Africa, despite the prohibition of child marriage in some existing national and provincial laws. Between 2000 and 2010, about 24.4 million women between the ages of 20 and 24 were married before the age of 18, according to a report by the United Nations Population Fund.
Now some lawmakers in Pakistan are hoping to end the practice by introducing harsher punishments for clerics, guardians and spouses involved in arranging child marriages across the country. The province of Sindh, whose capital is Karachi, outlawed the practice in late April — hence the raid.
The Child Marriage Restraint Bill 2014 introduced in the National Assembly in March proposes amending a 1929 law by making involvement in a child marriage a recognizable offense and creating stricter punishments, including two-year prison sentences or fines of up to $1,000.
Still, [Marvi]Memon and other bill supporters are facing stiff resistance from opponents to the bill, such as the Council of Islamic Ideology, a body charged with advising the government on Islamic law.
In March, the council ruled that laws related to the minimum age of marriage were against the teachings of the Quran and that children of any age could get married if they had reached puberty. They argue that the Prophet Muhammad took underage wives.
“Parliament should not legislate laws which are against the teachings of the Quran and Sunnah,” said Maulana Muhammad Khan Shirani, the council’s chairman, referring to the Muslim holy book and oral traditions of the Prophet Muhammad.
Read more: Islamic Clerics in Pakistan Say Child Marriage is Legal.