Lawmakers in Pakistan's Sindh province yesterday unanimously passed a new law, prohibiting marriage of children below 18 years of age. The Sindh Child Marriage Restraint Bill recommends three years imprisonment for bridegrooms and parents found guilty of violating the law. Sindh Minister for Social Welfare Rubina Sadat Qaimkhani, who tabled the bill, hailed it as a historical initiative for the province, where the ratio of child marriage is very high compared to other provinces. Speaking at the assembly, Qaimkhani thanked all parliamentary parties, civil society and women's rights organizations for their support and guidance. "Child marriages were being contracted in violation of the rights of children and international obligations," she said.
"Enforcement of the law will be equally vital if we want to save young girls being subjected to injustice," Syed Sardar Ahmed, a lawmaker, told the house. Abdul Rahim Moosvi, provincial coordinator of Adolescent Girls Empowerment, whose group was involved in the consultation process for the bill, said the legislation is just a first step; the real challenge will be to ensure its implementation at the rural level. According a study conducted by Shirkat Gah, a local NGO, about 30 percent of girls younger than 18 in Sindh are married, he said. "Child marriages lead to a high mortality rate and other medical complications. It denies girls the right to complete their education," he said. The bill comes amid a recommendation by the country's official body of Islamic scholars which ruled that children of any age could be married after reaching puberty. The Council of Islamic Ideology declared that laws related to minimum age of marriage were un-Islamic and should be abolished. The recommendations were criticized by women activists.
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