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‘Children shouldn’t be married until they attain mental maturity’

By: Ikram Junaidi

ISLAMABAD: A senior official with the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) has said that although CII recommends 16 as the appropriate age for marriage, children should not be married until they attain mental maturity.

“It is also not necessary for a child to be married as soon as they attain puberty,” he said.

CII Director General Muhammad Ilyas Khan was talking to health reporters on Thursday. While the media interaction had been organised to discuss family planning, the discussion drifted to a number of other issues.

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Mr Khan said that while marrying off minors was prohibited by Islam, Nikkah was not. “In case Nikkah is solemnised between minors, upon attaining puberty, both the bride and groom have the right to annulment, unless the Nikkah was solemnised by the father or the grandfather,” he explained.

The director general is a government servant, unlike the chairman and other members of the CII, who are politicians and religious scholars. Two months ago, while addressing a conference at a local hotel, Mr Khan talked about birth spacing and surprised many audience members with more tolerant views than other members of the CII.

CII DG says Holy Quran mentions birth spacing of 30 months between children
“However, even a Nikkah solemnised by a father can be annulled if there is a vested interest behind the decision, such as a peace agreement between two families,” he said.

The CII director general also said women should refuse sexual intercourse with their husbands if they suspect them to be carrying HIV. He said it is unfortunate that a number of women become infected with HIV because their husbands were carrying the infection. “Often men who return from the Middle East contract HIV and the wives of men returning from abroad should refuse sexual intercourse, until the husband gets tested for HIV,” he said.

He said that Islam does not force women to obey their husbands in such situations, because protection of life and faith are the basic tenets of the religion.

Turning the discussion towards family planning, Mr Khan criticised the commonly held belief that God is the provider so people should have as many child as they want.

“Although God provides for His creation, we must prioritise the health of our spouse,” he said.

The director general said the Holy Quran clearly mentioned that there should be a space of 30 months between two children. “People have children every year, which adversely impacts the health of a woman,” he said.

“Unfortunately, illogical fatwas by some clerics contribute to the confusion,” he added.

He also discussed the rights of religious minorities and said that preventing non-Muslims from freely practicing their religion was against the tenants of Islam. “Minorities must be protected,” he said.

In response to a question, Mr Khan said that while the state has the right to pardon the execution of a death-row convict, punishment in hudood, qisas and human rights cases cannot be pardoned.

Population Council Deputy Director of Programmes Seemin Ashfaq said that Pakistan was the sixth most populous country in the world and that by 2050, it would become the fifth most populous country with over 340 million people.

Citing the recently released study by Population Council carried out with the Guttmacher Institute, Ms Ashfaq said: “Although a majority of Pakistani women want to have three children, only 20 per cent families have access to contraceptives.”

She said that the fact that between 2004 and 2012, the number of abortions conducted in Pakistan rose from one million to 2.25 million, shows that there is a huge number of unwanted pregnancies occurring.