India Shamed Pakistan on Wednesday. Once again. Without uttering a single bad word. This is how a better democracy works — by winning the day without hatred, without communalism, and being eternally progressive and liberal. Incidentally, October 11 was International Day of the Girl Child. Pakistani law makers seem particular selective about deciding when to shame themselves!
ON A DAY WHEN India's Supreme Court struck a blow for the rights of the girl child and ruled that sex with wife below 18 years would amount to rape, a Standing Committee of Pakistan's Senate rejected ‘The Child Marriage Restraint (Amendment) Bill, 2017’, calling it un-Islamic. The bill was aimed at increasing the minimum age for girls to marry from 16 to 18.
Pakistan’s law makers went to Islamic religious scholars to ask if girls can be married before the age of 18 according to Islam. The ulema said yes, and the government should not increase the age for marrying. So the Senate rejected the bill.
As India's top court criminalised marital sex with wife under 18 years of age, and made it clear that the law will apply to all faiths, Pakistan's law makers went the other way.
Pakistan's Senate Standing Committee on Interior, which found the draft law to increase the minimum age for girls to marry from 16 to 18 years as contrary to Islamic injunctions, informed that the country's Muslim religious scholars have vetoed the bill.
"I have discussed it with religious scholars and they believe that girls can be married before the age of 18 according to Islam, so these kinds of bills cannot be passed,” Rehman Malik, chairman of the Senate committee, said.
Pakistani lawmakers often seek the opinion of the Council of Islamic Ideology on any piece of legislation that may draw the ire of powerful religious ulema.
While activists fighting in India to introduce the concept of marital rape drew hope from Supreme Court's order on sex with child wife, feminists in Pakistan were left heart-broken with the stance of their Senators.
The Delhi High Court is already grappling with the issue of criminalising marital rape. The Union government has adopted a stance that the concept of marital rape will destabilize the institution of marriage, a view opposed by many liberal circles.
In India, while the minimum age for a girl to consent to sex is 18 under many pieces of legislation, such as the Prohibition of Prevention of Child Marriage Act (PCMA), the Juvenile Justice Act and the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, the bench of Justices Madan B Lokur and Deepak Gupta read down this latest exception on Wednesday, Oct 11, 2017, that "sexual intercourse with a girl below 18 years of age is rape regardless of whether she is married or not.”
"The exception carved out in the IPC creates an unnecessary and artificial distinction between a married girl child and an unmarried girl child and has no rational nexus with any unclear objective sought to be achieved. The artificial distinction is discriminatory and is definitely not in the interest of the girl child,” India's Supreme Court said.
Senator Sehar Kamran, who had moved the bill, had wanted time to convince fellow law makers and had argued how can the Pakistani citizens be allowed to marry at the age of 16 when they are not even issued a Computerized National Identity Card (CNIC) by the country's National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA), and cannot get a driving licence before the age of 18, and cannot vote.
Girls as young as 10 are often married off in Pakistan despite the fact that the legal minimum age for getting married is 16, she said.
Kamran had argued that in Pakistan, the leading cause of death for girls between the ages of 15 and 18 was pregnancy. As per the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, the minimum age for marriage for girls should be 18.
Girls as young as 10 are often married off in Pakistan. The legal minimum age for marriage is 16. Leading cause of death of girls between the ages of 15 and 18 is pregnancy. But Pakistan’s ulemas are least bothered.
That the Pakistani senators' move to reject a progressive piece of legislation coincided exactly with the Indian Supreme Court's widely welcomed decision to protect the girl child underlined the liberal and democratic values of Indian society in a much more effective manner than what many anchors try to achieve in their nightly shriek-and-jump news shows, ostensibly saving the republic.
The Question of Health
While Pakistani Senators did not listen to the pleas of Senator Sehar Kamran of the Pakistan People's Party, the mover of the bill, that the leading cause of death for girls between the ages of 15 and 18 was pregnancy, the Indian Supreme Court judges stood up for the girl child, without any reference to any religious belief or affiliation, or practice.
Justice Gupta, who wrote a separate judgment concurring with Justice Lokur, while reading down the "unconstitutional and offensive” part, said: "In the case of a minor girl child, good health would mean her right to develop as a healthy woman. This not only requires good physical health but also good mental health. The girl child must be encouraged to bloom into a healthy woman. The girl child must not be deprived of her right of choice. The girl child must not be deprived of her right to study further."
He further said, "In the modern age, when we talk of gender equality, the girl child must be given equal opportunity to develop like a male child. In fact, in my view, because of the patriarchal nature of our society, some extra benefit must be showered upon the girl child to ensure that she is not deprived of her right to life, which would include her right to grow and develop physically, mentally and economically as an independent self sufficient female adult.”
In contrast, Pakistani law makers who call themselves democratic, went to the religious ulema and came back with what is utterly regressive, pathetic, anti-women view that religion poses an obstruction in protecting the girl child of 16. That the Standing Committee of the Senate chose the International Day of the Girl Child to let her down betrays the utter apathy of the country’s lawmakers.
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