Sindh Assembly passes bill declaring marriage below 18 punishable

New legislation also covers honour killings, harassment, acid attacks

KARACHI – The Sindh Child Marriage Restraint Act 2013 was passed in the Sindh Assembly on Monday, declaring marriage below the age of 18 punishable by law.

In cases of underage marriage, parents, bride and groom can all be sentenced to three years in prison and can be fined with Rs 45,000, according to the bill. The Sindh Assembly is the first assembly in Pakistan to pass a bill of this kind.

The bill was presented last year by Minister for Culture Sharmila Farooqi as well as provincial minister Rubina Saadat Qaimkhani. Both of them were part of an eight-member committee which was tasked on August 1 with preparing drafts in consultation with the stakeholders. The legislation covers child marriages, honour killings, harassment of women and acid attacks.

Sharmila submitted her version, titled Child Marriages Prohibition Act, 2013, of the draft in the Sindh Assembly on August 20. Rubina’s draft, titled The Child Marriages Eradication Act, had been scrutinised by the law and women development ministries. She had said that she has re-drafted the bill tabled in 2011 by former women development minister Tauqir Fatima Bhutto.

The Child Marriages Prohibition Act had classified the offence as cognizable, non-bailable and non-compoundable. The Child Marriages Eradication Act, however, had held it only as a cognizable offence. Civil society activists, bureaucrats and the media believe it will take time to implement the bill, for which Health and Nutrition Development Society – an NGO – has been struggling for the last two years.

Sharing the history of the first such bill, Additional Secretary for Sindh Law Department Aslam Shaikh had earlier stated that a bill was introduced in 1929 and the age of a girl for marriage was fixed at 14 years. He had said that with an amendment, the age limit was made 16 in 1965. The enforced Child Marriage Restraint Act, 1929 awards three-month maximum imprisonment and Rs1,000 fine.

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