ISLAMABAD: A day after the passage of a bill seeking to set minimum age for marriage at 18 in the Senate, a similar legislation was introduced in the National Assembly on Tuesday, but only after an intense discussion which exposed cracks within various parties on the issue.
Deputy Speaker Qasim Suri referred the Child Marriage Restraint (Amendment) Bill, 2019 to the committee concerned after the house allowed its mover Dr Ramesh Kumar Vankwani of the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) to table it with a majority 72-50 vote.
The National Assembly also witnessed introduction of 10 other bills, including two constitutional amendment bills seeking creation of a new Hazara province, on the private member’s day.
Former president Asif Ali Zardari, who came to the house after the Asr prayer break, was seen conversing with the PML-N’s Khawaja Saad Rafique, who is currently under custody of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) in connection with a housing society scam and attending the session after issuance of his production order by the speaker. The two arch-rivals of the past remained busy discussing some important matter for some time without caring for the proceedings.
PML-N members submit bills seeking creation of Hazara province
Earlier, a heated discussion took place on the child marriage bill which exposed a division even within the federal cabinet. Religious Affairs Minister Noorul Haq Qadri and Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Ali Mohammad Khan strongly opposed the bill and termed it un-Islamic, whereas Human Rights Minister Dr Shireen Mazari argued in support of it and asked the deputy speaker to refer it to the committee.
The opposition Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) was the only party whose members voted in support of the bill in unison as the members of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) also gave a divided vote.
Read: How Pakistan is failing its child brides
The Senate had already on Monday passed the bill moved by the PPP’s Sherry Rehman amid a noisy protest by the members of religious parties. The PTI had abstained from voting.
The religious affairs minister and the minister of state for parliamentary affairs, who had also opposed the bill in the Senate, called for referring the bill to the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII), instead of the committee.
The parliamentary affairs minister said the CII had already rejected similar bills in the past terming it against the basic tenets of Islam. He said they would not let any anti-Islam bill passed from the house. He pointed out that a minority member had moved the bill which was against the basic teachings of Islam. He declared that he would oppose the bill even at the cost of his cabinet position, adding that even the whole house could not pass any legislation which was against the teachings of Quran and Sunnah.
Dr Shireen Mazari almost presented the same arguments which PPP’s Sherry Rehman had given in the Senate a day earlier during the discussion on her bill.
Dr Mazari said a number of Islamic countries, including the UAE, Turkey, Egypt and Bangladesh, had already enforced similar laws restraining the marriages before the age of 18. Besides this, she said, the Al-Azhar University of Egypt had also issued a decree in this regard.
Shahida Akhtar Ali of the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam opposed the bill whereas Shaista Pervez of the PML-N spoke in favour of it.
However, at the time of voting, a number of male members of the PML-N were seen sitting in their seats whereas the women members stood up in support of the proposed legislation.
The PML-N members submitted two separate constitution amendment bills seeking creation of a new Hazara province.
Last week, the PML-N members had managed to introduce the bill for creation of South Punjab and Bahawalpur provinces.
The bills for Hazara province were moved by Ali Khan Jadoon and former deputy speaker Murtaza Javed Abbasi. Both the bills of similar nature were referred to the committee after the government did not oppose the move.
Published in Dawn, May 1st, 2019