A court in Lahore on Friday declared as legal the marriage of a 13-year-old Christian girl, ruling that the marriage took place as per the Christian Marriage Act.
The ruling from the Lahore High Court (LHC) came in response to a writ petition filed by the girl’s mother.
She maintained that her 13-year-old daughter Aleeza alias Liza, had been abducted by her husband with the help of his accomplices and then forcibly married.
She claimed that the marriage was illegal because it was not performed in accordance with the procedure prescribed by the Christian Marriage Act 1872 (the “CMA”), and because Aleeza was a minor. Further, she argued that the underage marriage did not carry the consent of her father as required under section 19 of the Act.
She asked the court to recover the girl under Article 199 of the Constitution.
As supporting evidence, the petitioner’s counsel produced the girl’s school certificate and a Family Registration Certificate issued by the National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) from February 2016, which showed she was 13 years and four months old.
The lawyer added that she contracted marriage per Christian rites on June 21, 2021.
The additional advocate general, however, opposed the petition. He argued that this was not a case of forced marriage, rather it was one of runaway marriage.
“The minimum age for a native Christian man to enter into a marriage is 16 years and for a woman, it is 13 years in terms of section 60 of the CMA,” he argued, adding, “The consent requirement under section 19 is within the age bracket of 16 to 18 and 13 to 18 years respectively.”
Afterwards, the court in its ruling held that the police have investigated the case and found that the girl had not been abducted by her husband.
Moreover, the the latter also gave a statement of record that she married him of her free will.
The court ruled that “the contention that the marriages performed without the required consent are void deserves short shrift for several reasons. Firstly, only those marriages between the Christians (or where one person is from that faith) are void which are solemnized in contravention of section 5.”
“Lack of consent in terms of section 19 is not among the enumerated grounds. Secondly, the CMA is silent regarding the mode, manner and procedure governing the proceedings in which a marriage may be declared void.”
“Thirdly, section 77 says that when a marriage is solemnized in accordance with the provisions of sections 4 and 5, it is not void merely on account of irregularity in any of the five matters listed therein, which includes the consent of any person whose consent to such marriage is required by law.”
The court furthe enumerated that even with regard to solemnization of marriages to which sections 19, 44 and 60 are applicable, there is no provision that such marriages would be null and void.
’The person who solemnizes a particular marriage in violation of law is only liable to be punished.“
Lastly, the court said that the Divorce Act, 1869, sets out the statutory grounds for instituting a petition in the Civil Court for a decree of nullity of Christian marriage. Absence of consent under section 19 of the CMA is not one of those statutory grounds.
With regards the child marriage, the court noted that per the Child Marriage Restraint Act, action can be taken against the husband for marrying a minor and those who facilitated him.
“The CMA and the Divorce Act of 1869 govern Christian marriage and divorce in Pakistan. The Child Marriage Restraint Act, 1929, does not override them. It is a separate law that punishes those who are responsible for an under-age marriage but does not nullify the marriage itself,” the court stated.
“In the present case, the petitioner has made only a bald statement that the marriage between the accused and her daughter is void on the ground of consanguinity and affinity but has not furnished any details,” the court noted, adding, “She has also not appended any document with her petition to substantiate it. Even otherwise, since respondent No.3 has controverted the petitioner’s aforementioned contention, a factual inquiry is required to determine the truth which cannot be conducted by this court while exercising jurisdiction under Article 199 of the Constitution.”
The court thus ruled that the marriage is not void and that the accused did not abduct her.