Islamabad: In a retrogressive step, a religious body in Pakistan has declared girls as young as nine years old eligible to be married "if the signs of puberty were visible", a media report said today.
Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) chairman Maulana Mohammad Khan Sheerani of the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) said after a meeting yesterday that media and `some other segments of society` were not taking the council`s decisions seriously.
He said laws that defined a minimum age for marriage were not Islamic and should be repealed, adding that the council would recommend that the Parliament amend these laws to bring them in accordance with Islamic principles, Dawn news reported.
He also criticised the Sindh Assembly which last month passed Sindh Child Marriage Restraint Bill, banning underage marriages.
The CII chief said marriages that were solemnised at a time when both individuals were minors were only binding if they were arranged by the `wali` (father or grandfather) of the two individuals.
In cases where marriages were solemnised by someone other than the `wali`, both individuals had the option to refuse or reconsider the match upon achieving adulthood.
Clarifying the decision, Sheerani said that a `nikah` could be performed at any age, but the bride could only start living with the groom after reaching puberty, the report said.
The CII chief also said that most of the clauses of the existing Muslim Marriage Law, 1961 were un-Islamic.
He said that section 6 of the law, which required men to seek permission from their wives before entering into another marriage, was not in accordance with Islamic principles.
Civil society took strong exception to the statement.
"Women and children are the most vulnerable groups in the country? if such legal cover as a minimum age prohibiting child marriages are done away with, then exploitation of women and children will increase," Human Rights Commission of Pakistan Chairperson Zohra Yousuf said.