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‘Compulsory marriage bill violates most fundamental human rights’

Hina* belonged to a middle-class family and was a student of distinction all her life. After getting admission in the Dow University of Health Sciences, she completed her MBBS, that too with distinction.

While her house job was under way, a marriage proposal came for her and she was married off. Now she’s a mother of two and a housewife. She couldn’t even complete her house job.

“My parents thought that not getting married at the right time would be a problem,” she said. “The marriage proposal was good in all respects, but my in-laws didn’t want me to work, so I had to compromise.”

Hina’s story might not be the only one. According to the Medical Council of Pakistan’s estimates, half of the female doctors quit working. Even though over 70 per cent of the medical students are female, only 23 per cent of them practise after graduation.

We live in a society where tying the knot is believed to be the solution to every problem. The belief is so deep-rooted that last week Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal lawmaker Syed Abdul Rasheed submitted a draft of the Sindh Compulsory Marriage Act 2021 as a private bill to the provincial assembly secretariat. The draft seeks to make marriage compulsory for people aged 18 years. The Pakistan Peoples Party, however, has assured everyone that they won’t let the bill be passed.

According to the private bill, the parents of the adults who are not married off after reaching the age of 18 years would need to submit an undertaking to the relevant deputy commissioner to justify the delay. Those who fail to submit the undertaking under Section (2) would have to pay penalty of Rs500 each.

Talking to The News, Rasheed said that Khuraafaat (immoral activities) are on the rise in society, and girls and boys are forming relationships in the name of girlfriend-boyfriend. “Cases of adultery and rape are being recorded,” he said, adding that in Quran and Sunnah there is clear direction for men and women to get married.

When he was asked about married men who rape, he clarified that he doesn’t mean that rape would come to an end in society by making marriage compulsory, but that it would at least reduce it.

He lamented how child marriage acts are passed by our assemblies that “directly clash with the teachings of Islam”, saying that no such bill can be passed constitutionally that is against the teachings of Islam.

He said that marriage below the age of 18 is a crime, even though girls and boys reach puberty before that age, adding that why then making 18 the mandatory age of getting married is a problem. He, however, admitted that the age limit could be increased to 22 or 25 after proper debate in the assembly.

The News spoke with lawyers working on rape cases, and with psychologists and people from other walks of life regarding the bill. Aurat Foundation’s Mahnaz Rehman termed the bill a “joke”, saying it is completely against the rights given to individuals in Pakistan’s constitution.

She said that instead of working on development issues, our lawmakers are bent upon getting us married. “This is not the state’s job, but a very personal issue,” she said, asking what about the girls’ education if they end up getting married at 18.

Rasheed’s solution to this was to put a clause in the Nikahnama making it mandatory for the in-laws of the girls to allow her to study and bear all her educational expenses. Advocate Rana Asif, who mostly works on rape-related cases, pointed out that the main accused in the notorious Lahore Motorway case was married, and the rapist in the Veena Hayat case was also married. “Roughly 70 per cent of the rapists are married,” he said, adding that in social sciences, marriage is not linked with rape in anyway.

Advocate Komal Anwer answered a few questions about the legality of the bill. When asked if the bill violates basic human rights, she replied that it violates some of the most fundamental human rights. It deprives women of exercising their independent right to get married and forces them to opt for something forcibly without their own free will.

She shared that Article 20 of the constitution, titled ‘Freedom to profess religion and to manage religious institutions’, states: “Subject to law, public order and morality: (a) every citizen shall have the right to profess, practise and propagate his religion; and (b) every religious denomination and every sect thereof shall have the right to establish, maintain and manage its religious institutions.“

She said that this grants women the right to practise religion, and there is no commandment in Islam for women to get married by a certain age. Hence, she added, this bill is a direct violation of Article 20 of the constitution.

She also said that laws that are against the Constitution of Pakistan 1973 can be challenged before the high court and the Supreme Court. “There have been several instances where the courts have declared laws that are against the constitution to be null and void.”

Dr Asha Bedar, who has a PhD in clinical psychology from the University of Melbourne and has been practising for over two decades, believes that as a society we find cure in marriage. She said that we believe that a lot of problems and evils of society will be solved with marriage. “That is so problematic, oversimplifying and overemphasising anything.”

She added: “When marriage is good, mutual, respectably satisfying partnership for people, it could be a wonderful thing for them, but as a psychologist, I also see the other side of marriage where respect is not there or love or consideration or mutual satisfaction in social or physical way is not there, then I know it can be painful for a lot people.”

There are researches on how depression in married women is more common. “There are also women and young girls who are not married and they face so much pressure to get married at a certain age.”

As for sexual violence, she outrightly said that it has nothing to do with one’s sexual needs being satisfied. “Sex is one aspect of it, but it is about power and those dynamics. So, we know a lot of rapists and abusers are men who are married. It has nothing to do with marriage. The idea that with marriage social, emotional and sexual needs are fulfilled, this is completely inaccurate.”

If the marriage isn’t healthy, it creates more problems than it solves. She shared how she has worked with clients who have been forced into getting married. If they were not forced, they had no option.

There seemed to be a checklist: age, family, finance, status, similar backgrounds, even looks, foreign settlement. But in terms of the quality of the relationship, the emotional side of the relationship, the psychosocial side, she said that no importance is given at all.

We push for marriage as one attains the age, “as though there’s a formula. And there is no formula. Marriage has to be about when you’re ready; it’s a personal decision. The whole idea of legislating on it and the state interfering in it is very problematic”.

Professor and religious scholar Muhammad Zubair Ahmed said that there’s no condition of age for getting married in Islam, neither has it been made mandatory. “Marriage has been recommended in Quran and Hadees, but not made mandatory,” he stressed.

*Name changed to protect privacy

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