Dua Zahra’s who went missing from Karachi and appeared from Punjab in front of media, with a guy named Zaheer and has consistently denied regarding her being kidnapped and also about her age claiming that she is 18 years old. Despite Dua’s parents presenting her Nadra-attested birth certificate and their own marriage records, a medical test ordered by the Sindh High Court (SHC) determined that Dua was between 16 and 17 years old. This was finally proven wrong by the reconstituted medical board’s new report this week, after a long legal battle.
Lawyer Nasir says that with the latest report supporting Dua’s parents’ stance regarding her age, this case falls under kidnapping. “The law also states that contracting a marriage [with someone who is] under the age of 16 is a crime, and any physical contact with a child under 16 is classified as a sexual offence,” he adds.
Around the time Dua went missing, another similar case of Nimra Kazi was also reported. Nimra too went missing from Karachi in April and emerged from Punjab and said that she had married her husband, Shahrukh, of her own choice. While Nimra’s parents claimed that she is a minor still Nimra confidently told the authorities that she is 18.In June, a judicial magistrate in Karachi, District East, allowed Nimra to live with her husband of her own free will. A medical report put Nimra’s age between 17 and 18. Eventually, Nimra’s parents also hesitatingly accepted her marriage, although they still claim that their daughter is a minor.
Both cases have brought to light, once again, the distinction of laws in different provinces. A lot of work needs to be done to better protect children across the country.
Sindh and Punjab have different marriage laws, “Under the Sindh Child Marriage Restraint Act, 2013, the minimum age of marriage has been fixed at 18 years,” told former Sindh Advocate General Salman Talibuddin. Punjab instead has the Punjab Marriage Restraint (Amendment) Act, 2015, under this Act, “any adult who marries a child, defined as a boy under 18 years and a girl under 16 years of age, can be punished with imprisonment of up to six months and a fine of 50,000 rupees.” Same is the punishment for nikkah registrar. Khyber Pakhtunkhawa and Balochistan are still following the Child Marriage Restraint Act, 1929, where minimum age of marriage is 18.
Firstly, the legal documentary evidence, including the birth certificate issued by the hospital, the child registration certificate issued by the local authorities or Nadra [the National Database and Registration Authority], school registration records and the nikahnama or marriage certificate (if any) are carefully examined. Dr Tariq says a medical board examines this birth registration, academic and medical documents and then reaches a final conclusion. “A medical board must include a radiologist, a gynecologist, and dental, civil and police surgeons,” she says.
In March this year, the Islamabad High Court (IHC) ruled that any marriage under the age of 18 years was unlawful. But, the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) took issue with the ruling and sent a letter to the registrar of the court. Talking to Eos, Dr Qibla Ayaz, chairman of the CII, says that declaring the already executed marriage of boys or girls who are under the age of 18 years as illegal would create “serious religious and social problems.”
Making Meaningful Changes
Providing legal protection is one aspect but education and changing mindsets is required to address this serious issue. The non-government organisations (NGOs) alone cannot resolve this issue. The country’s political parties must play a constructive and positive role in this regard. UNFPA further approaches on governments and leaders to improve girls’ access to education and enhance economic opportunities for girls and their families through employment options.
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Laws need to protect children across the country and the implementation of these laws must be ensured. Indeed, a lot of work needs to be put in to make sure that no family faces ordeals similar to the ones in above mentioned cases.