Underage Marriage Act

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The Islamabad High Court on Tuesday delivered an extremely wise judgment in a case of early marriage that covertly recognizes the practice as the root cause of many social ills and personal tragedies. Justice Babar Sattar of the Islamabad High Court issued the written order on the plea of a woman, seeking her daughter’s recovery. The woman had filed a plea with the court in May 2021 regarding the girl’s ‘abduction’, while the latter had submitted with the court about marrying at her own free will. In its directives, the judge ordered Station House Officer (SHO), to hand over the girl to her mother from the Darul Aman. In the written order, Judge Sattar observed that a girl under the age of 18 can’t marry on her own will, while her relatives also can’t proceed with an agreement to the same effect. “…Guided by principles of Islamic jurisprudence and Principles of Policy enshrined in the Constitution, (including state’s obligation to protect the woman, the child and the family), the test for legal agency and competence of a female child is her biological age and not her state of physical and biological growth,” he wrote. The ruling rightly noted that a child cannot be “deemed to have the competence or capacity” to parent a child of his/her own while being a minor. Indeed, an early marriage means the loss of one’s childhood. It has profound and long-term consequences for girls’ education and health and for the quality of life they can provide to their own posterity. The burdensome responsibilities of a marital relationship and subsequent parenthood leave minors more vulnerable to domestic violence, death in childbirth, and medical conditions like obstetric fistula and cervical cancer. The IHC judgment is only applicable to the ICT, provincial legislators should take a cue from it to amend their own laws. Sindh has already done the needful when in 2014, it criminalized child marriage and raised the minimum marriageable age for females from 16 to 18 years, bringing it on par with that for males. The other provinces however are still frozen in time, having retained 16 years as the minimum age at which girls can marry. But there is a need to amend these laws to provide a legal framework against misogynistic practices in Pakistan.

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