Child Marraige Act: LHC terms difference in gender-based age criteria 'discriminatory'

LHC strikes down “discriminatory” law for fixing different minimum age criteria for males, females for marriages

Naveen Ali
Representational image of a child bride. — Reuters
Representational image of a child bride. — Reuters

  • LHC declares distinction in gender-based age criteria “discriminatory”.
  • Laws meant to focus on social economic, educational factors: LHC.
  • High court orders Punjab govt to revise 95-year-old Act in 15 days.

LAHORE: The Lahore High Court (LHC) has struck down the section that deals with gender-based age distinction in the Child Marriage Act, 1929, and ordered the Punjab government to revise the legislation.

The high court declared it “discriminatory” the specific portion of the legislation — Section 2(a) and (b) of the 95-year-old Act — which fixes different legal ages for males and females eligible for marriage which is 18 and 16 years respectively, as per a 5-page verdict given by Justice Shahid Karim on Monday.

It is noteworthy to mention here that the aforementioned law was replaced by the Punjab Child Marriage Restraint (Amendment) Act, 2015, for to criminalising the child marriage in the province.

The court observed that there was a need to take effective steps against child marriages as the marriage laws were meant to primarily keep in view the “social economic and educational factors rather than religious”.

“The extract set out above makes a compelling case based on physiological and sociological factors for the executive to step up and take effective measures to counter the debilitating effect of child marriage,” it read.

The LHC judge observed that all citizens were equal in accordance with the law, blocking passage to any kind of discriminatory action with any citizens, but the distinction between the legal age criteria for eligibility of marriage for males and females in the Act was “discriminatory”.

The provincial government has been ordered to amend the Act within 15 days in accordance with the court order.

“In sum, the words in section 2(a) viz. “if a male ….and if a female is under sixteen years of age” being unconstitutional are held to be without lawful authority and of no legal effect. They are struck down,” the LHC’s verdict read.

“The Govt of Punjab (its relevant department) is directed to issue the revised version of 1929 Act (based on this judgment) within the next fifteen days,” it concluded.

The verdict was given on a petition seeking amendments to the Child Marriage Act, 1929, over apparent distinction drawn on the basis of gender. The petitioner stated that the Constitution grants equal rights to the men and women.

Meanwhile, the provincial advocate general also narrated some facts regarding adverse effects of child marraiges in the society which “deprives a child of the right to education, deaths of mothers aged between 15 and 19 due to pregnancy and childbirth related complications, as well as perpetuation of the cycle of poverty and inter-generational cycle of malnutrition.”