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Civil Society Supports the Amendment Bill to Prevent Child Marriage in Punjab

By: Maleeha Khan

LAHORE – Human rights activists welcomed the introduction of the Punjab Child Marriage Restraint Bill, 2024, and urged the Punjab government to pass this crucial legislation to prevent child marriage. They called for swift action to protect the family of Roshni Shakeel, an underage girl from Multan who was subjected to child marriage and forced faith conversion, and to bring the perpetrators to justice.

They highlighted a case where a 13-year-old girl, Roshni Shakeel was abducted, forcibly converted, and married to Muazzam Mazhar. An FIR (No. 782/24) under section 365-B of the Pakistan Penal Code was registered at Sital Mari Police Station in Multan on 13th March 2024. Two months later, Roshni managed to escape captivity and reunite with her parents. Shockingly, she revealed that her statement under section 164 of Cr.P.C. was obtained under duress, with her abductors threatening to kill her and her parents if she did not record a statement in their favor. Roshni disclosed that she was held against her free will, and that her abductor, Muazzam had planned to traffic her to Saudi Arabia for money.

Joseph Jansen, chairperson of Voice for Justice, emphasized that child marriage threatens children’s rights and adversely affects their health, and emotional, and psychological well-being. He stated that it is the prime duty of the State to protect children from abuse and exploitation. The evil of child marriage won’t end in society unless it is unequivocally challenged by all stakeholders, and a zero-tolerance policy becomes the norm in Pakistan. He pointed out that police responses to complaints of child marriage vary, with some instances, officers booking all responsible parties, including family members and Nikkah Khwan while in most cases, they fail to include existing legal safeguards in the FIR such as; sections of the Child Marriage Restraint Act, and sections 498-B, 361, 364-A of PPC. He observed that the practice of child and forced marriage is often validated by police and judiciary, who are misled by forged documents presented by perpetrators and coerced statements from minor girl victims, allowing perpetrators to evade justice.

Nadia Stephen, a women’s rights activist, expressed hope that the bill proposed by MPA Sarah Ahmad, in light of the recent Lahore High Court order by Justice Shahid Karim on the petition filed by Barrister Azka Wahid, will contribute to protecting underage girls. She stated that this act, if adopted, will raise the legal minimum age for marriage for girls from 16 years to 18 years, and address the manipulations observed during investigations and trials. 

Rukhsana Zafar said that the proposed bill makes the production of national identity cards and birth certificates issued by NADRA mandatory for both boys and girls wishing to register a marriage. She noted that the authorities often ignore these requirements during investigations and trials in most cases involving accusations of abduction, child marriage, and forced faith conversions.

Anosh Waseem noted that approximately 30 percent of girls are married off as child brides in Pakistan. The underage minority girls continue to suffer due to the impunity enjoyed by perpetrators as witnessed in numerous cases of abduction followed by marriage and conversion of underage minority girls. Aneel Edger, a human rights defender, stressed that no person below the age of 18 years is legally competent to enter into marriage and convert. He called on state institutions to impartially and promptly investigate forced conversions and child marriages, apprehend the perpetrators, ensure fair trial proceedings, and guarantee victims access to justice and effective remedies.

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