On August 24, Naila Inayat a US-based Pakistan reported tweeted a video of a young 14-year-old Christian girl leaving the premises of Lahore High Court along with her ‘husband’, who happens to be a Muslim, as the court had allowed the two to live together as a married couple. The girl, as stated above, is a Christian. Not that it is uncommon in Muslims to break all rules and the courts allowing them to do so, the fact is that forced conversions and marriages with Muslims of girls belonging to religious minorities after being kidnapped has a long history and is very much a matter of concern for the civil society over the last several years.
As soon as the video went viral on the internet, the apologists of the courts, as well as the religious extremists, started arguing in favour of the court and the marriage claiming that the girl had consented to the marriage and that she had every right to go with her husband. They went on to claim that the girl had told the court that she wanted to live with the boy and wouldn’t go home with her family. This is not just the problem of the courts here but of the general mindset, which the courts and our ‘honorable’ judges also represent.
According to Child Marriage Restraint Act 1929 (No XIX), a woman should at least be of 16 years of age at the time of her marriage if the marriage is taking place with the consent of her parents and if the parental consent is not there, then she must at least be 18 years. But what we see here is that a court allows the marriage to continue with impunity whereas the boy should have been jailed for having forced a child into marriage. And if the man was a minor too then those who signed on the Nikkah agreement as witnesses should by now have been ordered to be jailed. But what happened instead was the court allowed the marriage.
This is wrong at so many levels. One: The agreement was considered valid when one of the parties was a minor. This is in gross violation of any laws that must be adhered to while signing a contract or an agreement. Two: The agreement should have been declared void ab-initio by the court but it confirmed it, leaving a huge question mark on the abilities of the adjudicating authority. Three: The people are fine with a minor being allowed to go into marriage without parental consent.
I can’t dictate the courts. I don’t have any trust in the judges anyway. But I do want the common people to understand why a marriage at such a young age is not right. A minor, that is any person below the age of 18 years, cannot get into an agreement because he/she is not experienced enough to understand the consequences of their decisions. Child marriage has an added problem to it. Young kids, boys and girls, are not fully conscious of their bodies. Their consent in such cases doesn’t matter because they can get into a marital agreement out of sheer curiosity without seriously gauging the implications of their decisions. And that is why the parents are allowed to oversee the marriages of the minors in case they are over 16 years of age, and less than 18. And a 14-year-old cannot get into a marriage even if the parents allow such the marriage to take place.
This is not just a case of religious minorities in Pakistan being wronged but a case that has been recurring in all parts of the country with all communities, Muslim and non-Muslim. A minor cannot get married. In fact they cannot get into any agreement whatsoever. The courts might not care about the laws. We know they are not the custodians of the law that they were supposed to be. But the people must understand that we cannot let kids decide about their future lives at such a young age without proper education and little to no knowledge of the consequences that they might get to face as a result of such absurd decisions that they make in the rush of the blood.
Author’s Bio: The author is an editor and writes on political and social issues. He writes for Dunya Blogs, The Friday Times, Fasaadi.com and Humsub.com.pk. He can be reached at @thealiwarsi