HYDERABAD: Pointing out a loophole in the Sindh Child Marriages Restraint Act, 2013, the Sindh High Court (SHC) allowed Tharparkar’s allegedly underage Hindu girl, who married a Muslim man, to live with her husband.
However, the single bench of Justice Salahuddin Panhwar, while disposing of the petition of the girl’s father, Satram alias Satio Meghwadh, left the matter of her age to be decided by a division bench of the SHC.
The SHC Hyderabad Circuit Bench was seized with two petitions concerning the marriage of Syed Nawaz Ali Shah and Ravita Meghwadh. She was renamed Gulnaz after she converted to Islam on June 6 in Samaro, Umerkot, before registering the marriage at a Khanqah with Shah.
One of the petitions is filed by Shah for the couple’s protection and cancellation of the FIR nominating him and his relatives for allegedly kidnapping the girl and forcing her into marriage. The other petition was filed by Satram, who cited his daughter’s underage status on the basis of her school certificate to plead for invalidation of the marriage.
On Thursday, Ravita was produced before Justice Panhwar in compliance with the court’s June 19 order. “Statement of the allegedly abducted girl was recorded wherein she claiming herself as sui juris [of one’s own right] stated that she has contracted marriage with Shah of her own choice,” Justice Panhwar’s June 22 order reads.
However, advocate Bhagwandas Bheel, who represented Satram, insisted that she was under pressure to give such a statement. On the petitioner’s insistence that she should be separated from her husband to allow her to make a free statement, the judge sent Ravita to Darul Aman for one day.
“On a query counsel[s] for respective parties agree that if [the] girl … is sent for one day [to Darul Aman] to ensure that she is not under any pressure with direction to produce her before this court on June 23 when her statement will be recorded and if she stuck with her earlier statement, then father and mother of the girl will not pursue the FIR,” the order read. “Counsel for the petitioner [Satram] also files such statement that whatever [the] girl will state, they will follow and they will not raise any objection on such statement. The statement is taken on record.”
On Friday, she was again produced in the court and she repeated the same statement, declaring her marriage and conversion to be of her own free will. Advocate Zahoor Baloch, Shah’s counsel, argued that the matter is sub-judice before a divisional bench of SHC and that Satram’s petition is not maintainable.
Advocate Ali Palh of Rights Now Pakistan (RNP), a non-profit organisation working for human rights that became an intervener in the petition, underlined the violation of Sindh Child Marriages Restraint Act, 2013. Palh informed the court about a 2016 judgment in an identical case by a bench headed by former SHC chief Justice Syed Sajjad Ali Shah, which sent the girl to Panah Shelter Home to live there until she attained 18 years of age. “The judge said the 2013 act is silent over the matter of invalidating such a marriage,” said Palh.
A district bench of the SHC Hyderabad Circuit Bench will take up the same matter on Shah’s petition on June 30. Palh said that if the contention over the girl’s age is not settled in the SHC, the RNP will challenge the orders in the Supreme Court.
“If the court allowed an underage girl to live with her husband in contravention of the act, in future other girls marrying in violation of the act will also cite judgment of the Ravita case,” he contended.