The legal age of marriage in Pakistan is 18 years for males and 16 years for females; but after the 18th Constitutional Amendment in 2010, the issue of child marriage became a provincial subject. KPK, Punjab and Balochistan provinces of Pakistan are still following the Child Marriage Restraint Act 1929, but Sindh government has passed a bill in the provincial assembly increasing the legal age of marriage for girls from 16 years to 18 years under the Sindh Child Marriage Restraint Act 2013, which says that marriage below 18 years is punishable by law.
According to the section 12 of 1961 Muslim Family Law Ordinance of Federal Sharia Court, child marriages are banned, and it sets a minimum age for the marriage of boys (18 years) and girls (14 years); but in the 191st meeting of the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) in March, 2014, it was declared that the laws related to the minimum age of marriage were un-Islamic and that children of any age could get married if they attain puberty.
These two decisions once again started a debate over the legal age of marriage in Pakistan. At one end, Pakistan is a signatory of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Children,which considered marriage below the age of 18 as child marriage; on the other side, the country’s law allows the age of 16 for marriage as legal, and now, the CII says that there is no age limit for marriage in Islam, and that children of any age can get married as soon as they attain puberty.
When it comes to puberty, there is no fixed age of puberty. The age to attain puberty is different in males and females, and even differs in male to male and female to female. The CII agreed on the age of 15 for puberty, although according to the CII, a girlmay reach puberty at the age of nine while boysmayreach puberty as soon as 12.
Islamic scholars defend their stance on early marriage by saying that when a person matures physically, sexual desires develop in the individual and, gradually, both girls and boys start getting attracted to each other, which develops psychological pressure on males and females. If they are not married, this natural emotion gradually seeks consolation in whatever form (exposure to sexual content in music, movies, television, and magazines) possible and could result in the youngsters indulging in some unwanted and undesired habits. Prevention of character from corruption becomes a remote possibility, because after all, they are human beings and no human is free from sin. According to the scholars and Islamic teachings, to save the youngsters from adultery or any other similar sin, it is the responsibility of the parents to arrange marriage for their children in early age.
The Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) once said, “Whoever marries, protects half of his religion; then for the remaining half, he must only fear God.”
At another occasion, the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) states, “O youth, whosoever among you can marry, he should do so because marriage protects your eyes (from sin).”
Although the legal age of marriage around the world is 16-18, but some recent scientific researches and surveys have found that the age of puberty is decreasing by 2 years in every 10 years because of the easy access of children to sexual content. Research says that exposure to sexual content in music, movies, television and magazinesaccelerates the teenager’s sexual activity and increases their risk of engaging in adultery.
Another research says that media is not purely based on entertainment. Every movies, drama serials or even most of the advertisements contain different kinds of sexually elicitcontent for youngsters. The report says that earlier maturing girls reported more interest than later maturing girls in seeing sexual content in movies, television and magazines, and in listening to sexual content in music, regardless of age or race.
Similar kind of studies showed that pressure from the mass media was related to body satisfaction, body esteem, self-esteem, psychological disorders (e.g., depression), and behavioral outcomes (e.g., excessive exercising).
All the above mentioned researches and studies emphasizes on two things.
- The bombardment of sexual content from different sources that are easily accessible to the children can lead to psychological problems.
- In handling that psychological pressure, there is a great risk that youngsters may get involved in immoral activities.
Islam showed us a way to save our youth from involving in immoral activities that they would pursue to fulfill their natural desires, and that is “marriage”. Marriage is the only option that Islam provides for this purpose.
Last month, a seminar was organized by Idara-e-Taleem-o-Aagahi (ITA) in collaboration with Rutgers World Population foundation (WTP) and Preston University, demanding the age of marriage in Pakistan to be raised from 16 to 18 because early marriages lead to social isolation and block the educational opportunities.
Education is important and marriage should not be enforced on the youngsters who want to complete their education, but the percentage of such teenagers, especially in females, is very low in Pakistan, and especially in the rural areas of Pakistan where children donot get the opportunity of higher education. In that case, raising the age limits will only create problems for the parents where their children have easy access to television and internet but they donot have access to quality education; where the parents will like to save their children from the evils of the media and the internet but the law will prohibit them from doing so.
Islam is a religion of morality where Muslims have to guard their chastity and protect honor, but at the same time, Islam also emphasizes on education (Islamic education and formal education both) for males and females. Itis also not true that every youngster opting for higher education and delaying marriage will definitely get involved in immoral activities, but the chances are there and Islam teaches us about the preventive measures, thatis why mixed gatherings, girls and boys meeting in private and travelling alone for girls are discouraged by Islam.
The institution of marriage has been given remarkable importance in Islam. Marriage is highly recommended in terms of saving Muslims from sin. In some cases, itis even considered as protecting half of the religion as mentioned in the following hadith.
Al-Haakim narrated in al-Mustadrak from Anas, in a marfoo’ report: “Whomever Allah blesses with a righteous wife, He has helped him with half of his religion; so let him fear Allah with regard to the other half.”
But in many cases, due to extraordinary situations, it becomes mandatory and a religious duty. For example, marriage becomes mandatory when there is a chance of adultery or any other similar kind of sins.
Therefore, the question remains whether in such modern times, should marriage be delayed for education or should education be delayed for marriage? Does Islam encourage marriage above education? In fact that is not the case, Islam encourages knowledge-gaining at all levels, there are innumerable Hadith and Ayahs of the Quran in this regard.
The Quran asks the Prophet to pray, ‘Oh Lord, increase me in knowledge’. (20:114)
The Hadith says, “He who follows a path in quest of knowledge, Allah will make the path of Jannah easy to him… The superiority of the learned man over the devout worshipper is like that of the full moon to the rest of the stars (in brightness). The learned are the heirs of the Prophets who bequeath neither dinar nor dirham but only that of knowledge; and he who acquires it, has in fact acquired an abundant portion.”
Infact, the acquisition of knowledge is prime and if our state is resolute to prioritize education over marriage to a certain age, it must ensure two things first – one, clean up of all media content of those that prompt sexual desire – two, make the subjective material of the education easy to grasp, interesting and available to all under-18s.