Sindh Assembly’s unanimous adoption of the Child Marriage Restraint Bill on Monday for both genders below 18 is nothing less than a historical achievement in the provincial assembly. Postulated by the bill, marriage involving anyone below 18 years of age is now a crime, a non-bailable and non-compoundable offence deserving three years in prison. Furthermore, the state or any person can file application with the Judicial Magistrate of First Class against child marriage. It was stressed upon that full implementation by lawmakers take place in all constituencies. The bill replaces the superannuated Child Marriages Act 1929 which carried a punishment of only Rs 1,000 against the social evil. After the repealing, the House committee increased the age of marriage to 18 years while increasing the monetary fine to Rs 45,000 along with imprisonment for three years.
The movement of the bill could not have been possible without the dedication practiced by female lawmakers as well as their allies. In addition to this, the Memorandum of Understanding signed by Parliamentary Affairs Minister Sikandar Mandhro strengthens cohesion between activists, lawmakers and parliamentarians on issues concerning female autonomy, social epidemics, environmental problems and the welfare of children. It bears mentioning that Sindh Women Development Minister Rubina Saadat Qaimkhani’s focus and support for female lawmakers and other male members of the assembly in favor of the bill augmented the belief that child marriage must be criminalized. And while it is worthy of lauding, the passing of the bill occurs at an interesting time: Although it is vociferously supported by PPP, one cannot help but remember its bogged down performance when the same party was in power. Only recently has the debate made compassionate rounds in the assembly.
Ergo, the delayed action of the assembly and how, even now, other provincial assemblies lag behind in addressing a reprehensible crime remains distressing. It should not take months to deliberate whether child marriage is a violation of human rights: Any child marriage is by definition a forced marriage as it is inherently devoid of consent from the younger member. Criminal penalties are practically more effective as they recognize violence against children as a crime and embody a statement that such abuse will not be tolerated by any means. The remaining provinces must take a lesson from this precedent and establish societies where children are seen as human beings and are shielded from sadistic practices.