Child Marriage Restraint Act: Is Three Years In Prison Enough?

The Sindh Assembly unanimously passed “The Sindh Child Marriage Restraint Act, 2013,” into law, thereby repealing the 1929 Child Protection Act and becoming the first province to legislate on child marriages in Pakistan. Sharmila Faruqi (Pakistan’s People’s Party – PPP) presented the private Act in the Provincial Assembly. The Act fixes the age of marriage at a minimum of 18 for both males and females, along with increasing fines and imprisonment time levied upon those who violate the Act.

 The law states that, “the provisions of the Child Marriage Restraint Act, 1929, relating to the Province of Sindh are hereby repealed”, continuing, “an offense punishable under this Act shall be cognizable, non-bailable and non-compoundable.”

 Sindh Minister for Social Development Rubina Qaimkhani (PPP) welcomed the passing of the Act and appreciated lawmakers for their support. She further identified that early marriage for females leads to the negative implications on their future.

 This move comes after the Council of Islamic Ideology declared the clause prohibiting child marriage in Pakistan’s marriage laws were un-Islamic, and children of any age could be married upon puberty. This created an uproar amongst civil society and was heavily criticized in the SenateSenate, where Senator Farhatullah Babar stated that the Council of Islamic Ideology was in fact strengthening the narrative of the Taliban by justifying child marriages. He cited that this move shows an increase in extremism in the country (See Bolo Bhi’s timeline on child marriage.)

This new law is an important success for civil liberties, however, the leniency of a three-year-imprisonment for parties involved in child marriage must be criticized, given that the sentence can be commuted to shorter imprisonment. More importantly, in many cases, laws passed for the protection of children are not implemented effectively, and crimes against children have continued to rise. The Sindh Child Protection Authority Act, 2011 is a law that, if implemented effectively, calls to establish child protection units across the province, where child protection officers can take children into protective custody until receiving appropriate orders by relevant authorities for protecting the child in question. Khyber Pukhtunkhwa passed the Child Protection and Welfare Act, 2010 into law which criminalized various offenses such as pornography and sexual exploitation and also addressed the privacy of “child at risk”, with a fine of PKR. 10,000 (USD$101) for violators of the provision. On the other hand, the Balochistan Child Protection and Welfare Bill has been pending since 2011, and Punjab is still in the process of formulating a child welfare policy.

 Despite legal improvements, children’s rights continue to be violated. According to Sahil, a child-rights NGO, an astounding number of 3002 cases of sexual abuse were reported in 2013, which is a 7.6% increase from the previous year. The Movement for Solidarity and Peace (MSP) reported that in 2013, an estimated 300-700 Christian and Hindu women became victims of forced conversions to Islam, and were subjected to abuse, with some of them forced into prostitution. Child marriage is only one aspect of abuse and the exploitation of children, which young girls are particularly subjected to. In fact, according to Sahil’s 2013 report on Child Sexual Abuse (CSA) child marriage saw an increase of 21% last year.

As laudable as the passing of The Sindh Child Marriages Restraint Act, 2013 is, the implementation of this law still remains to be seen. The provincial government must focus on launching awareness-building campaigns on child marriages and child sexual abuse and encourage community members to protect children by contacting the relevant authorities if they suspect that a child is being abused. Existing laws need to be implemented in order to truly counter child sexual abuse. Similarly, other provinces need to follow Sindh’s example by enacting laws protecting children from child marriages, sexual abuse, and commercial exploitation, and dedicate far more resources to implement said laws.

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