Pakistan Senate passes bill to fix 18 years as age of puberty for girls

ISLAMABAD: Pakistani Senate has passed a bill to fix 18 years as the age of puberty for girls to end the practice of child marriages in the Muslim-majority country, triggering objections from some members who said the move was against Islam.

The Child Marriage Restraint Act 1929 was presented by Senator Sherry Rehman of Pakistan Peoples Party, which will help to end the practice of child marriage in the country. The bill was passed on Monday after heated opposition by some lawmakers who termed it against Islam to fix the age of puberty, the Express Tribune reported.

Senator Ghafoor Haidri raised an objection, saying fixing the age of 18 years for Nikah is inconsonant with the Shariah and the bill may be sent to the Islamic Ideology Council (IIC for further discussion. Federal Minister for Religious Affairs Noorul Qadri said a similar bill was sent to the IIC in 2010 which was returned by the council with the observation that according to Fuqaha, the age of puberty varies and cannot be fixed.

Former Senate chairman, Senator Raza Rabbani, supported the bill and apprised the house that the bill was earlier sent to the IIC, where it remained pending there for years without discussion. He said that the Sindh Assembly had already passed the same bill which was not challenged or opposed at any forum so far.

He further said the age of puberty of girls in other Islamic countries is also 18 years. The mover of the bill Senator Rehman, however, urging the Senate chairman for voting on the bill, said the age of voting, eligibility for national identity card was also 18, “so why the age of puberty cannot be fixed accordingly.”

Giving details of Muslim countries that declared 18 years as the age of puberty, she said, in Algeria the age was 19, while Bangladesh, Egypt, Turkey, Morocco, Oman, United Arab Emirates, and even the Saudi Arabia had fixed 18 years as the age of puberty. “We are not promoting western values, but are trying to save innocent lives as a Pakistani woman dies every 20 minutes because of marriage at an early age,” the senator said, adding that the entire world legislated to protect the lives of their girls, but unfortunately 21 per cent marriages took place under the age of 18 in Pakistan.

State Minister for Parliamentary Affairs Ali Muhammad Khan said though the intent of the bill is noble but there are issues which should discussed as the country came into being in the name of Islam. Winding up the debate on the bill, the Senate chairman sought voting and passed the bill with an opposition of five votes, according to the paper.