On February 23, a report about a new Pakistani law that allows men to marry underage girls after they have had their first period sparked outrage and discussion in the international community. However, this premise of this report is false.
The widespread news contributes to a much larger problem: the increasing level of ‘fake news’ in this media-led world. The sole purpose of these stories is to manipulate individuals and influencing their social bias. A social bias occurs when we unwittingly or deliberately develop an opinion about a certain group or individual and give preference to them based on our view. An individual’s social bias is amplified when they can find a public agreement on it as well. The incident that took place in Pakistan instantly stirred up hatred towards Islamic law and the Pakistani government on social media.
In October 2019, Huma Younas, a 14-year-old Christian girl was abducted in Karachi, Pakistan. She was forced to convert to Islam and marry her abductor, Abdul Jabbar. To fight against this act, the case was submitted to the High Court in the Sindh Province by Huma’s family lawyer. The media has chosen to stay silent about any developments made regarding the case until now.
Global Citizen published an article that claimed the Sindh High Court passed down the ruling that men can marry underage girls after they have reached puberty. This instigated the narrative that Pakistan does not take into account other religious minorities in the country and presents a deceptive image to the international community.
Jibran Nasir, a Pakistani civil rights activist and lawyer set the record straight by calling out these false claims by showing the actual court order on the issue.
The reality of the situation is that the court has only asked to verify the age of the girl and no verdict has been ruled. The legal marriage in Pakistan is still 18, according to the Child Marriage Restraint Bill (1929). While the issue was settled quickly, it still had a negative impact on the country and in the international community.
We live in an era of awareness and while some may fact-check these stories, that is not the case for many.
Huma’s story is a visual representation of what women and young girls have to suffer around the world. Pakistan has committed to eliminating child, early and forced marriage by 2030 in line with the Sustainable Development Goals.
The day a girl is married, her entire future is compromised.
Will you take a stand with us against child marriage?
— UN Women (@UN_Women) July 9, 2018
The narrative that Sharia (Islamic Law) approves of Child Marriages is completely misinterpreted. Marriage in Islam consists of consent from both parties, especially from the young woman. The acceptable age of marriage is when individuals have reached puberty. Consent in Islam is widely questioned and criticized but the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) stressed on the importance of consent saying “as consent is necessary for a valid marriage in Islam, every effort should be made to ensure that both the bride and groom consent willing and explicitly, rather than through silence, to avoid any doubt.”
This proves that there should be no debate on public forums whether forced child marriage is acceptable in Islam or not. The Quran itself portrays the clear ruling on the issue. Since Pakistan is a partial-secular state, there is legislation that sets a minimum age of 18 to protect the rights of other religious minorities and prevent forced marriages.
At the end of the day, it is about the lack of awareness of rights and exploitation of narratives. It is vital for women, especially, to be given education regarding their rights and as the Muslim community, it is our responsibility to constantly fight the battle against false narratives about Islam.
More than that as global citizens, it is our responsibility to amplify voices against child marriages. Huma’s story is shared by many other young girls who are stripped away from their childhood and brought into the ugly reality of being a child bride. This is the result of social norms and values that supposedly strengthen tribal relations. Girls are not meant to be dealt with as a business deal between two parties. As the Quran says, “O you who have believed, it is not lawful for you to inherit women by compulsion.”
This further shows that it is a clear violation of children’s rights that risks a child’s physical and mental health. This act should not be condemned in any circumstance.
Photo: Bill Oxford via Unsplash