By: Azeem Samar
Karachi: Three private bills calling for a ban on wasteful expenses on wedding functions, child marriages and the practice of dowry in the province were introduced in the Sindh Assembly session on Tuesday.
On the first private members’ day of the current assembly, Sharmila Farooqi of the ruling Pakistan People’s Party introduced the drafts of the prospective laws in the house, presided over by Deputy Speaker Shehla Raza.
On behalf of the government, Sindh Law and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Dr Sikandar Mandhro supported the introduction of the bills in the house.
While introducing the Sindh Marriage Functions (Prohibition of Ostentatious Display and Wasteful Expenses) Bill, 2013 (the sixth bill of this year), Farooqi said the assembly had previous passed a resolution calling upon the government to take steps to ban wasteful expenses at wedding ceremonies and enforce “one-dish meals”.
The legislation, she said, was important as about 15 to 20 percent of the population could not afford unnecessary expenditures on holding marriage functions for their children at all. “The issue has been getting severe with the passage of time owing to the widening economic disparity in the society,” she claimed.
The bill, Farooqi claimed, not only called for imposing one-dish meal system at weddings but also restricting unnecessary display of wealth and social status through lavish arrangements for hospitability, food and beverages for guests.
“Islam also advocates solemnising marriages with simplicity,” she said while clarifying media reports that the dinner at her own engagement ceremony earlier this year did not have 43 dishes on the menu.
The Child Marriage Prohibition-2013 sparked a debate in the house as the Sindh Minister for Women Development claimed that her department had already prepared a similar bill after consulting woman parliamentarians, civil society, scholars and minorities.
Rubina Sadaat Qaimkhani believed Farooqi should have shared the draft of her bill with the department to include the finer points of the private bill in the government bill.
She added that the bill to ban pre-adulthood marriages of girls would be tabled in the assembly after approval by the Sindh cabinet.
Dr Mandhro said the two drafts would be clubbed together in a single bill so that legislation on this major societal issue could be adopted in its best form.
Child marriage prevention, Farooqi said, was important as it would amend the marriage laws after 84 years in order to set 18 years as the minimum age for youngsters, especially girls, to get married.
The law of 1929, she said, only prescribed one-month imprisonment and a mere Rs1,000 fine for people violating the law.
The PPP leader claimed that Pakistan accounted for 24 percent of the worldwide marriages in pre-adulthood of girls. “Girls should be saved from early marriages due to the maternal mortality rate of the country,” she said, adding 276 maternal deaths were reported every 100,000 women.
Her third private, the Sindh Prohibition of Dowry Bill-2013, called for banning dowry and exchange of expensive gifts while solemnising marriages as an amendment to the act of 1976.
It would help parents belonging to the downtrodden sections of population who could not finalise arrangements for [lavish] marriages of their daughters, Farooqi said. “Their financially unstable condition bars them from arranging dowry as a compulsory social condition.”
Later, the house took up the privilege motion of opposition MPA Syed Khalid Ahmed of Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) as he protested against the “out-of-turn” introduction of the bills.
He claimed that his four private bills were ignored despite being submitted on the first day of the current legislature term and assigned the numbers from one to four by the assembly secretariat.
The deputy speaker and law minister assured the opposition legislator that they would update him in due course of time about the status of his private bills.
On a point of order raised by MQM’s Khawaja Izhar-ul-Hassan about the alarming rise in Karachi of dengue fever cases, opposition leader Faisal Subzwari complained about the lack of fumigation and other necessary precautionary arrangements to prevent the outbreak of dengue.
Eleven people have died in Karachi this year due to the spread of viral fever.
The house unanimously adopted private resolutions for reversal of increased petroleum prices; for restricting movement of heavy vehicles, especially in residential areas, from 5:30am till midnight; for checking rampant sale of intoxicating items; for establishing fire brigade stations with adequate vehicles and facilities; and another for prescribing minimum age of 18 years for both males and females as a compulsory condition for marriage.
The house also unanimously adopted five private motions moved by MPA Abbasi for reducing electricity and CNG outages to provide relief to people of Sindh; for providing proper training on medical and behavioural subjects to the paramedical staff; for ensuring provision of employment on basis of disabled and son’s quota in Sindh; for ensuring proper utilisation of funds reserved for making protective walls and embankments along rivers; and for controlling the price hike of essential commodities.