PESHAWAR: Civil society members in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa have demanded the federal government urgently add an amendment to the Constitution, abolishing the Council for Islamic Ideology (CII) altogether. Or, they suggested, remove the CII’s advisory team, and make it a purely ceremonial entity.
They also demanded Maulana Sherani be removed from his post as chairperson for CII, and a progressive and moderate Islamic scholar “who does not hate women and girls”, must replace him.
In a joint press conference held at Peshawar Press Club on Tuesday, civil society representatives discussed how the National Assembly Standing Committee on Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony rejected the Child Marriage Restraint (Amendment) Bill 2014 after the CII dubbed it “anti-Islamic and blasphemous”.
After a face-off with the CII advisory team regarding the child marriage bill, PML-N’s Marvi Memon withdrew her proposal. Those at the press club said the proposed legislation had recommended harsher punishments for those entering conjugal contracts with minors.
“In December 2015,” they said, “Lawmakers in the Gilgit-Baltistan Assembly had also blocked a bill seeking a ban on child marriages over similar concerns.”
Previously, a private member bill in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa met the same fate on the same grounds. Under the Constitution, the CII chairperson is the final authority in the council with the choice to overrule the voice of all members. While the CII’s decisions are not binding on parliament, they are treated as the guiding principles to frame laws.
An emergency meeting of civil society alliances was called to discuss this situation at the press club. Participants at the news conference belonged to various NGOs such as National Action Coordination Group to Eradicate Violence Against Children (NACG K-P/FATA), Alliance to End Early Forced and Child Marriages, Family Planning Association of Pakistan (FPAP), South Asia Partnership Pakistan (SAP), Women’s Action Forum (WAF), MEN UNiTE, Pakhtunkhwa Civil Society Network and Rawadari Tehreek.
In a statement issued at the press conference, the members voiced “total outrage at the barbaric, medieval, cruel, misogynist and inhuman mindset demonstrated by the shocking pronouncements from the CII chairperson on the issue of child marriages.”
NACG Provincial Coordinator Qamar Naseem said, “We and almost all Pakistanis do not take [Sherani’s] words or the current composition of the CII seriously. But, unfortunately, the Parliament does.” He said he was disappointed the CII has Constitutional protection, although its pronouncements can serve only as advice and recommendations to the legislators.
Sikandar Zaman, the regional head of SAP PK, said government and civil society must take necessary measures to eliminate all forms of discrimination against girls. “All harmful traditional or customary practices—such as child marriage—must be done away with,” he said. “I find it disappointing to see Quaid-e-Azam’s struggle to set a minimum age for marriage for Muslim girls through the 1929 law has no relevance to all those who claim to have inherited his ideology,” Zaman added.
PCSN Coordinator Taimur Kamal said the Hasba Bill of 2005 (a bill setting up a parallel system to protect women and children rights) is the only piece of legislation referred to the council by the then governor of K-P. “The government is clever. It only sends bills related to women and children to the council,” he said, adding very few recommendations on other bills issued by CII have been acted upon by the government.
They suggested CII’s retrogressive members must immediately be replaced with progressives, including 50% female scholars, judges and lawyers and 5% non-Muslims.