A draft of the “Sindh Compulsory Marriage Act, 2021” was submitted to the Sindh secretariat on Wednesday, and seeks to address “societal ills, child rapes, immoral activities and crime” by making it mandatory for children over 18 to marry.
Under the proposed bill, parents will be required “submit an undertaking with justified reason of delay before the deputy commissioner of the district” if their children are not married, and upon failing to do so, they would have to pay a fine of Rs500 each. The bill also wants to put a ban on dowry and establish standard operating procedures (SOPs) for weddings. The draft was submitted by MMA MPA Syed Abdul Rasheed, who argued that this would help fight “competition” and motivate people to organise simpler weddings.
Rasheed also announced the submission of the draft on his Twitter account.
In a video, Rasheed claimed that the obstacles in the way of marriages nowadays, like unemployment and high costs, were a direct “result of distancing from Islamic teachings.” He spoke about unemployment causing delay in marriages, saying the problem was “society’s tendency towards competition”, which had “spoiled a lot of legal and correct ways”.
As soon as the news of the proposed bill broke on to the social media, users called it “ridiculous” and “disgusting”.
Journalist and filmmaker Munizae Jahangir also took note of the news, calling it “amusing.”
A user replied to her tweet saying he believes such bills intentionally attempt to undermine the assemblies. Calling it pathetic, he said it exemplified the disconnect between those in the assemblies and those on the streets.
Other users had similar opinions.
Politician and activist Jibran Nasir, who is very actively fighting against forced marriages of minority girls in the province, expressed his disappointment at the sort of things being discussed in our assemblies. He felt the bill was only for Muslims, as Hindu and Christian girls are forced to marry at a younger age.
This user dismissed the bill, saying it does not even effectively address the problem it apparently seeks to solve.
While the internet went into a frenzy, several different recreations of the news went viral. Some claimed the bill was passed, others claiming it was backed by the government. This was all false information — the truth is that only a draft has been submitted and there is little chance of it being passed. Some users felt it was important to highlight this in the midst of all rumours and memes.
Bakhtawar Bhutto Zardari also took to Twitter to steer the PPP out of this mess and said the bill will be “bulldozed” by the party.
It is important to highlight at this stage that Rasheed is the only member of his party in the Sindh Assembly. The speaker of the assembly has the right to not even allow the bill to be presented in the assembly. If it is allowed to be presented, it has to be voted and receive a majority vote to be passed and made into a law. Since Rasheed is from the MMA, it is unlikely he will receive the support he needs to pass the bill.
This user used it to mock the reality of being in Pakistan, where 18 year olds are not able to register themselves for Covid-19 vaccines with the government but should apparently be married off immediately.
This user thinks the government should be trying to do the opposite.
Others just couldn’t fathom the sort of thought and reasoning that would lead to such a bill being drafted. It is ridiculous to expect teenagers to get married so early.
This user was quick to highlight that the biggest culprit under the bill was PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, who is well over 18 and not married (good for him).
The province already has laws in place to tackle the problematic phenomenon of child marriages, such as “The Sindh Child Marriage Restraint Bill, 2013”, which makes it illegal for children under the age of 18 to marry. If an adult marries a minor, they are subject to “rigorous imprisonment which may extend to two years, and a fine which may extend to Rs200,000 or both.” Those that facilitate child marriages, and the parents/guardians of the children are liable to the same punishment.
So in the colossally unlikely chance that the MMA MPA’s bill was passed, Sindh would have a law criminalising marriages under the age of 18 and criminalising people who don’t get married over 18. Thankfully, we have enough faith in our assembly members to strike this bill down.
For the respected MPA who drafted the bill, we only have this to say: read the room. Marriage isn’t something that should be forced upon people. People should marry when they want to and not due to some arbitrary deadline set by you. There is so much more to life than marriage and shackling a child — because at 18 you are still very much a child — when their foray into adulthood has just begun is cruel. Let children be children and decide for themselves what they want to do and when they want to get married.
We hope the MPA is taking a close look at the reactions to his proposed bill on Twitter and will make better use of his time in the assembly in the future.