The Lahore High Court (LHC) on Monday observed that child marriages were rampant in the province and directed the Punjab local government secretary to ensure strict enforcement of the child marriage restraint law to curb the menace.
The court also questioned the government’s failure to curb underage marriages and punish the violators.
Justice Anwarul Haq Pannun expressed these views while hearing petitions of two women seeking recovery of their minor daughters when he took notice of the ongoing registration of child marriages.
The judge ordered the law officer to submit a report on behalf of the local government secretary, showing the enforcement of the relevant law.
Petitioners Rukhsana Bibi and Irshad Bibi earlier urged the court to order the recovery of their daughters from the custody of their alleged in-laws. Pleading that both girls were legally minor and had been ‘abducted’ by their so-called husbands, the lawyers asked the court to order the police to recover them.
The police submitted statements of the girls, claiming they contracted marriage with their free will.
The judge noted that the nikkah (marriage contracts) of the minors were registered by the authorities by tampering with the age or without seeking proof of the ages of the bride and the groom.
Justice Pannun directed a law officer to submit a comprehensive report, mentioning details of the complaints received against child marriages and the action taken by the government so far. The judge observed that action should also be taken against guests at such weddings in addition to the groom, registrar, and witnesses.
When the law officer attempted to apprise the court that the local government department had made SOPs to implement the “The Child Marriage Restraint Act, 1929”, the judge noted that apparently they were not being implemented allowing the blatant violation of the law.
The court will resume hearing on June 19.
Under the Punjab Child Marriage Restraint (Amended) Act 2015, the marriage of a male child under 18 years of age and a female under 16 years of age is a cognisable offence, with a maximum imprisonment of six months for the groom, parents and nikkah-khawan.
According to UNICEF, Pakistan has nearly 19 million child brides. The UN children’s agency estimates that around 4.6 million were married before the age of 15 and 18.9 million before they turned 18.
Across Pakistan, civil society has been at the forefront of fighting to end child marriage, pushing for tougher laws and working closely with communities, authorities and religious groups to change attitudes.
Maulana Sherani, a former chairman of the Council of Islamic Ideology, has publicly opposed any law setting the minimum age of marriage for girls. The council advises the government on the compatibility of legislation with Islam.
In 2014, the council declared child marriage restraint laws “un-Islamic,” triggering outrage from the civil society and media. When a bill establishing a minimum age was presented in the Baluchistan assembly, religious parties also opposed it.