Islamabad [Pakistan], December 25 (ANI): The menace of forced child marriage continues unabated in Pakistan and the repeated incidents have shown that the issue is deep-rooted in the country, said columnist Sulman Ali.
Recently, a 13-year-old Christan girl --Arzoo--was abducted allegedly by Ali Azhar, a 44-year-old man in Karachi. She was forcibly converted to Islam and was married off to the man.
The recent case of Arzoo has reignited the debate in the country, said Ali.
In a column in The Nation, Ali writes: "The menace of child marriage doesn't seem to end in Pakistan, as another case of alleged forced marriage and conversion of minority Christian girl surfaced in Karachi. The repeated incidents have shown that the issue is deep-rooted in the country."
Ali said that the incidents of minor abduction and child marriage are taking place despite the fact in April 2019 Pakistan Senate passed a Child Marriage Act, fixing the minimum age of marriage at 18.
Pakistan People's Party (PPP) leader Sherry Rehman, who presented the bill, met with harsh and heated comments by other senators, said Ali.
As per the Karachi law, underage marriage is against the law and it can be lead to imprisonment up to three years of a fine of Rs 100,000 or both.
However, the same bill was rejected by the National Assembly of Pakistan.
The bill got 50 votes in support, while 72 members opposed it. Even the members of the ruling party including Minister of Religious Affairs Dr Noor ul Haq Qadri and Minister of Parliamentary Affairs Muhammad Ali Khan opposed the bill.
Meanwhile, Minister for Human Rights Shireen Mazari and most of the women parliamentarians supported the bill.
In the Arzoo case, the minor's father Raja stated that on October 13, he and his wife went to work while their son Shahbaz had gone to school. The complainant said his three daughters, including Arzoo, were present at their home in Railway Colony when he received a call from a relative, who told him that Arzoo was missing from the house, Dawn reported.
Raja said he reached home and contacted their neighbours, but could not trace his daughter. He subsequently lodged a case regarding the abduction of his daughter against unidentified persons at the Frere police station.
Arzoo's family members earlier this month told Dawn that her purported husband Azhar lived in a house opposite theirs along with his family and he was at least 45-years-old.
"The men who abducted her has prepared fake papers to show that she is 18-years-old," her mother said.
According to UNICEF, 21 per cent of girls in Pakistan are married before age of 18, and three per cent before the age of 15. "The menace of underage marriage is mostly in most marginalised and underdeveloped parts of the country," Ali noted.
According to state law, before Child Marriage Bill passed by Senate in 2019, the legal marriage age for girls was 16 and for boys 18.
Ali said that the sceptics feel that the issue will prevail in Pakistan because on one hand, the lawmakers are not ready to change the law, while the religious clerics take underage marriage as a joke. While the whole society is lost and confused, most don't know what to follow and what not to.
"Rights activists urge the society as a whole start to think about the matter, engage in a positive debate over the issue that underage marriage is not a joke, can cause serious health issues to the girls and lead to lifelong mental trauma. It needs to be understood that girls have a right to choose their partner and time of their marriage," he writes. (ANI)