National Assembly Passes Christian Marriage Act Amendment

Islamabad, 9th July 2024 – The National Assembly of Pakistan has passed the Christian Marriage (Amendment) Act, 2024. This amendment, introduced by Member of the National Assembly Naveed Amir Jeeva, raises the legal marriage age for Christians to 18 years for both boys and girls, aligning the Christian marriage law with the broader child protection and human rights framework in Pakistan.

The amendment updates the Christian Marriage Act of 1872, which previously set the minimum marriage age at 16 for boys and 13 for girls. The new legislation reflects a growing recognition of the need to protect young girls from early and forced marriages, ensuring their right to education and safeguarding their health and well-being.

The journey of this amendment began last year when it was first introduced in the Senate by Senator Kamran Michael. On February 26, 2023, the Senate approved the Christian Marriage (Amendment) Bill, raising the minimum marriage age for Christians. This bill sought to amend the 1872 British-era law that was deemed outdated and inconsistent with modern human rights standards.

Senator Michael's advocacy emphasized that the amendment was crucial for protecting children from sexual abuse and forced conversions, issues that disproportionately affect religious minorities in Pakistan. Despite facing several delays and absences in committee meetings, the bill ultimately passed in the Senate, marking a significant step forward in legislative reform for minority rights.

The primary objective of the amendment is to protect the inviolable dignity of children, ensuring their basic human rights and preventing early marriages that could impede their education and development. The statement of objects and reasons for the bill highlights the state's duty to safeguard children from sexual exploitation and to secure their fundamental rights as enshrined in the Constitution of Pakistan.

Church leaders and human rights activists have welcomed the passage of the amendment. Bishop Azad Marshall, President of the Church of Pakistan, praised the legislation, stating that it would curb early marriages of minor girls, especially in rural areas, and act as a safeguard for their health, education, and overall well-being. 

Joseph Francis, National Director of the Centre of Centre for Legal Aid Assitance and SEttlemetn (CLAAS), said that the amendment was a longstanding demand of the Christian community and represented a crucial advancement in protecting young girls from forced conversions and sexual abuse.

The passing of this bill in the National Assembly follows its approval in the Senate, and it now awaits the President's assent to become law. This legislative milestone is seen as a significant step towards ensuring justice and equality for religious minorities in Pakistan, promoting a safer and more equitable society.