A legislative panel of the Upper House of Parliament on Wednesday approved a draft bill raising the minimum age of marriage to 18 years.The meeting of the Senate Functional Committee on Human Rights held here at the Parliament House and chaired by Senator Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar unanimously approved the Child Marriage Restraint (Amendment) Bill, 2018. Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Senator Sherry Rehman had moved the bill in the Senate which was sent to the committee concerned for further debate and recommendations. During the meeting, Senator Rehman said the proposed legislation was aimed at preventing underage marriages, adding that the legislation was also passed in Sindh Assembly earlier. She called for explanation of the word ‘child’. “Childhood marriages are the cause of 21 percent deaths in children,” she said. Pakistan is second from top in the countries where child marriages are rampant, she said, and demanded a ban on marriages under the age of 18 years.Talking about the salient features of the amendment, she said, “The amendment to the Child Marriage Restraint Act which will also extend to Islamabad Capital Territory if passed, will classify anyone below the age of 18 as a child. It would also ban marriage before 18 and declare it a non-cognizable and non-compoundable act. Everyone should be made aware of the negative impact child marriages have on Pakistani families, particularly on their health and standard of living. This menace has already caused enough damage and will continue to ruin the next generation if not immediately stopped.” Federal Minister for Human Rights Dr Shireen Mazari said, “We have no objection over the bill.” Committee Chairman Senator Khokhar said, “The committee approves the bill.”“I would like to extend my gratitude to the human rights committee members, Chairman Mustafa Nawaz Khokar and Minister for Human Rights Shireen Mazari for passing this important amendment. I am also glad to share that all political parties have come together and are on the same page regarding this crucial legislation,” Senator Rehman said. Earlier during the session, Senator Usman Kakar said that early marriages are one of the leading causes of child deaths. “If the minimum age to acquire a national identity card is 18 years, then the minimum age for marriage should also be the same,” he argued. “The minimum age of marriage for both girls and boys should be 18 years and the law should be approved by the parliament,” he suggested.To this, Human Rights Minister Shireen Mazari said, “The government has no objection to determining 18 years as the minimum age of marriage.” “The draft bill will be presented before parliament next month and will also be forwarded to the federal cabinet for approval,” she said. “No law will be passed which is against Islam or Shariah. We have to take care of the rights of both boys and girls,” she added.The committee also discussed the death of NAB prisoner Prof Mian Javed Ahmed in judicial custody and the ‘enforced disappearance’ of Saraiki National Party spokesperson.While discussing the death of Prof Javed in judicial custody, Senator Khokar stressed the need to visit all detention centers and submit a report to the committee. He said the application of the National Commission on Human Rights to gain access to information regarding the case must be considered and a response must be sent within a week. The case of missing persons was discussed in the committee against an application received by Saraiki National Party leader Abdul Majeed Kanjo regarding the ‘enforced disappearance’ of party’s spokesperson from his house on January 7. The committee recommended that a report from Justice (r) Javed Iqbal, president of Missing Persons Commission, be procured and that Punjab additional chief secretary and home department should assist to resolve the case at the earliest.Published in Daily Times, January 31st 2019.