Activists in Pakistan have demanded the removal of the chief of the Council of Islamic Ideology after a bill to increase the minimum legal age for marriage from 16 to 18 was opposed and termed “blasphemous” by the advisory body. The National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony rejected the “child marriage restraint” bill last week after the council dubbed it “anti-Islamic”.
The move to ban under-18 marriages – and increase punishment for those carrying them out – was initiated by Marvi Memon, a member of the National Assembly, who was forced to withdraw it last Thursday following staunch resistance from the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII). The council advises the legislature whether certain bills are compliant with Islamic law.
According to a UNICEF estimate, three percent of girls in Pakistan are married before they turn 15 and 21 percent before age 18. Those involved in an under-age marriage are punished by one month in prison in addition to a PKR 1,000 fine ($10). The amendment not only sought to boost the minimum legal age of marriage for girls to 18, but also to impose a two-year prison sentence and increase the fine to PKR 100,000 ($950).
Critics called for the dismissal of the Islamic council chief after the bill was opposed. “Maulvi Sherani must immediately be removed from his post as CII chairperson and an educated, enlightened, progressive, moderate and real Islamic scholar – who lives in the 21st century, and who does not hate women and girls – must be appointed to replace him,” civil society leaders demanded in a statement.