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The marriage age debate

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THE new debate over the minimum marriage age for girls has revealed a massive regression in our society’s social thinking and the implications are truly alarming.

Ninety years ago, a Hindu member of the Central Assembly of India moved a bill to fix the minimum age for the marriage of girls belonging to his community, so that the evil of child marriage could be tackled. Mohammad Ali Jinnah insisted on extending the protection of the proposed measure to Muslim girls, too. Many Muslim members of the assembly opposed him, but no member from any religious community challenged his right to have his say.

Recently, Ramesh Kumar Vankwani, a non-Muslim member of the ruling party, moved a bill to raise the marriage age for girls to 18 years. A Muslim minister not only disagreed with him, but also challenged his right to move the bill, implying thereby that Vankwani’s belief debarred him from raising a matter that could affect Muslim girls. Retrogressive thinking of this order has not been witnessed in our legislative history — neither before Independence, nor after it.

The Quaid-i-Azam spoke twice on marriage laws in the Central Assembly of India. In the first instance, he supported the Hindu Marriage Bill that allowed inter-caste marriages and declared: “I am as much interested in coming to the rescue of the Hindu minority ... as anybody else would be interested in coming to the rescue of a Musalman minority, if it was suffering.”


© Dawn