A council that advises the Pakistani government and parliament ruled Tuesday that the country's laws banning child marriage are “un-Islamic.”
The Council of Islamic Ideology, a constitutional recommendatory body that gives legal counsel to the government but can't make its own laws, advised the government that Sharia law sets no minimum age for marriage, so laws prohibiting underage individuals from getting married do not adhere to Islamic principles.
It added that according to Islamic doctrine, the consummation of the marriage, called Rukshati, should only happen when both husband and wife have reached puberty.
“The laws limiting the age for both the segments of marriage are un-Islamic and needed to be rectified,” CII chairman Maulana Mohammad Khan Sheerani told Pakistani English-language newspaper Dawn.
Pakistan’s Prohibition of Child Marriages Act stipulates that the age of marriage is 16 for women and 18 for men. The law has been in place since the country was founded.
Child marriage leads to high infant mortality rates from girls getting pregnant too early. Research conducted by the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine reveals that one in 14 births to youthful mothers — girls under 18 — results in the baby’s death before its first birthday, in Pakistan as well as in Bangladesh, India, and Nepal.
Sheerani also criticized laws forbidding polygamy.
“Sharia [Islamic law] allows men to have more than one wife, and we demanded that the government should amend the law,” he told reporters. “The government should amend the law to make the issue of more than one marriage easy and in accordance with Sharia.”
Zohra Yusuf, chairwoman of the independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, accused the council of “wishing to open a new front against women and to reinforce the militants’ siege of the state”— the Pakistani Taliban. She said the attack on child marriage laws is “against the spirit of the religion.”