03/01/2024, 15.59
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Church and activists praise raising the minimum age for Christian marriage

by Shafique Khokhar

On Monday, the Pakistani Senate voted on the Christian Marriage (Amendment) Bill 2023. For Christians, the legal age of marriage goes from 16 to 18 years of age. The battle to protect young women and girls from the practice of child brides and forced conversion began in November 2022. Now many hope it can be extended to all religions.

Lahore (AsiaNews) – The National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP), the body of the Pakistani Catholic Church leading the fight for rights and freedoms, has welcomed a law recently approved by the Pakistani Senate.

The Christian Marriage (Amendment) Bill 2023 voted by the upper house on Monday raises the marriage age for Christians from 16 to 18 years.

Senator Kamran Michael, a member of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), introduced the bill in the Senate to amend Section 60 of the Christian Marriage Act 1872 by raising the minimum age for marriage by two years.

The legislative process began on 24 November 2022 when Naveed Aamir Jeeva, a member of the National Assembly for the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), supported by NCJP, tabled a bill in the house to raise the marriage age to 18. It was voted on the next day.

In a joint statement, Bishop Samson Shukardin of Hyderabad, who chairs the NCJP and is the president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Pakistan, NCJP national director Fr Bernard Emmanuel, and NCJP executive director Naeem Yousaf Gill expressed their gratitude for the passage of the law.

“We are grateful to the Senate of Pakistan for fulfilling our long-standing request to increase the marriage age to 18 for both Christian boys and girls. This will help curb the trend of child marriages of underage girls, especially in rural areas,” the statement says.

“We extend our sincere appreciation to Senator Kamran Michael for his commendable work in presenting the Christian Marriage Bill to the Senate and to Mr Naveed Amir Jeeva for presenting it to the National Assembly.

"This law will play a vital role in promoting inclusivity and respect for the Christian community within our legislative framework. This bill will certainly pave the way for defending and protecting our young women and girls from forced conversion and marriages."

Finally, the NCJP leaders call on Pakistan’s incoming government to "work to make forced conversion a criminal offence" with penalties for abuses and violations.

Speaking to AsiaNews, Ata-ur-Rehman Saman, a human rights activist, expressed his appreciation for the law approved by the Senate, calling it "a success" in the ongoing struggle "for the realisation of our rights.”

For him, “This measure will certainly boost our morale and strengthen human rights organisations working to protect the marginalised sections of society." What is more, it “will protect underage Christian girls" from abuses like the infamous practice of child brides.

Hopefully, "This is the beginning of the realisation of the rights of underage girls of all religions in Pakistan. I wish this age limit for marriage is extended to every Pakistani.”

In fact, “to protect girls of religious minorities from forced conversion and forced marriages, the incoming government should criminalise the act of forced conversion of religious minorities to Islam. This would impart a sense of protection among minorities and improve our image internationally as well,” he added.

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