ISLAMABAD  -   The upper house of the Parliament Monday passed a bill to amend the child marriage restraint act 1929 to fix the age of puberty as 18 years for the girls.

Senator Sherry Rehman presented the bill to be passed unanimously but it triggered a heated debate on the issue.

Senator Ghafoor Haidri raised an objection saying, fixing the age of 18 years for Nikah is inconsonant with the Shariah law therefore the bill may be sent to Islamic Ideology Council (IIC) for further discussion.

Senator Mushataq Ahmad rejected the bill saying it is against article 2-A of the Constitution as defining 18 years for puberty is against Shariah. He suggested reducing the age of puberty from 18 to 15 in consultation with the IIC.

Senator Maulana Atta-ur-Rehman also opposed the bill on the grounds that committee did not invited Ulema for consultation and brought the bill to the house without hearing them therefore the matter may be send to IIC for further discussion.

Senator Maulana Faiz Muhammad said the Senate is not a proper forum to discuss matters like this therefore it may be referred to the IIC for further discussion.

State Minister for Parliamentary Affairs Ali Muhammad Khan said though the intent of the bill is noble but some of the issues require technical consultation as the country is came into being in the name of Islam. “The Constitution binds us to make legislation in consonant with Islamic laws,” the minister said adding the matter may be sent to the IIC.

Senator Raza Rabbani in support of the bill apprised the house that the bill was earlier sent to the IIC however, it remained pending there for years without discussion. He said Sindh Assembly has already passed the same bill which was not challenged or opposed at any forum so far.

He further said the age of puberty of girls in other Islamic countries is also 18 years.

Federal Minister for Religious Affairs Noor-ul-Qadri said similar bill was sent to the IIC in 2010 by former parliamentarians Marvi Memon and Atiya Anayat ullah which was returned by the council with the observation that according to Fuqaha, the age of puberty varies and cannot be fixed.

The mover of the bill Senator Sherry Rehman, however, urging the Senate chairman for voting on the bill said the age of voting, eligibility for national identity card is also 18 so why the age of puberty cannot be fixed accordingly.

Giving details of Muslim countries declared 18 years of age as the age of puberty, she said in Algeria the age is 19. Bangladesh, Egypt, Turkey, Morroco, Oman, United Arab Emirates, and even the Saudi Arabia has fixed the age of 18 for puberty, she added.

“We are not promoting western values but trying to save innocent lives as a Pakistani women died every 20 minute because of early marriage,” the senator said. “The entire world legislates to protect the lives of their girls but unfortunately 21 percent marriages take place under the age of 18 in Pakistan.”

Leader of the house Senator Shibli Faraz favoured the bill saying he was part of the committee deliberated on the bill and the IIC was confused and never took a clear position on the issue when their opinion was sought.

Senator Sassui Palijo said the girls in Pakistan are exploited in the name of Islam. She said Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) was the first one who protected girls and gave them rights in the time when they were buried alive.

Senator Farooq H Naik in favour of the bill said the bill fixing the marriage age but not restricting anyone to marry a girl under the age of 18. “The marriage before the age of 18 will not be invalid but the bill is criminalising the act for the protection of girls,” he said.

He said Islamic jurisprudence allows man to marry four women but Muslim family ordinance 1961 restricts the person to seek consent of the first wife before second marriage but if he does not, will be a punishable crime but not invalidate the marriage.

Senator Mushahid Ullah in support of the bill said to ensure the discipline in the society and to curb women exploitation, such legislation will be very effective.

Senator Taj Roohani said the age of puberty even from medical point of view is 18 years. However, some girls reach to the age of puberty in the age of 11 or 12 because of good nutrition.

Winding up the debate on the bill the senate chairman sought voting and passed the bill with opposition of 5 votes.