Tuesday Apr 26 2022
Web Desk

Legal experts weigh in on Dua Zehra’s case

Web Desk
The picture shows the silhouette of a girl. — Reuters/File
The picture shows the silhouette of a girl. — Reuters/File 

Dua Zehra, 14, went missing from her home in Karachi, Sindh, earlier this month. On Tuesday, the police were able to trace Zehra in Punjab, where she was living with Zaheer Ahmed, 21.

Ahmed, it later surfaced, has also contracted a marriage with Zehra, even though she is underage.

Zehra now says that she willingly fled her home and married Ahmed. In fact, she has filed a case of kidnapping against her father.

In 2013, Sindh outlawed marriage before the age of 18 for both boys and girls. Punjab’s law, however, sets an age limit of 18 years for boys and 16 years for girls. reached out to legal experts to ask which law would apply to Zehra’s case and will her marriage be annulled?

The Sindh law on child marriage is unclear

If the marriage was registered in Punjab, then the Punjab Marriage Restraint Act will apply.

This law, which was amended in 2015, states it is illegal to contract a marriage with a female who is below 16 years of age. Anyone contracting the marriage, including those who registered it will be punished under the act.

If the marriage has been solemnised in Punjab and registered at a local union council, then the Punjab law on child marriage will apply. The Sindh law will not, regardless of the fact that the girl is from Sindh.

Now the Sindh law [on child marriage] does not prescribe a minimum age. It just states that contracting a child marriage is forbidden, but child marriage’s jurisprudence is not clear here as Islamic laws say that a girl who reaches puberty is not a child.

Punjab, on the other hand, has defined a child as someone who is 16 years or below.

But a big problem is that when such matters are taken to court, usually the court will say that as long as the child is above the age of puberty, states that she is not a minor and the nikah has been solemnised, it will not take action. As the child’s age will need to be ascertained, which is a long, arduous process. The courts do not want to get into it.

These are real cases where the courts have said that under the Sharia law if the child has attained the age of puberty then these acts [Punjab or Sindh’s] are not valid.

Reza Ali, lawyer

Important for authorities to verify the documents

The Sindh law is very clear that a girl has to be 18-years-old to marry.

In Dua’s case, it is very important for the authorities to verify the relevant documents. The girl looks very young and any marriage by a person below 18 years is illegal and forced marriage.

Minor children do not have consent, legally speaking. It is the guardian’s consent. Even if the girl is saying I [married] out of my free will, the authorities should not accept this and examine the documents carefully, as documents can be forged.

Under the Sindh law, marriage under 18 years of age is void and anything else that happens in that marriage is forced sex.

Nighat Dad, lawyer