In a judgment issued on March 7, 2023, the Federal Shariat Court (FSC) declared that setting a minimum age limit for marriage by a state or government is not against the principles of Islam as laid down in the Holy Quran and Sunnah. The FSC stated that fixing minimum age limits provides a reasonable time period for girls to complete basic education, which contributes to their mental maturity. The court further observed that the protection of the physical and mental health of citizens is a duty of the Muslim state under the principles of Shariah.
The FSC dismissed a petition challenging the Sindh Child Marriage Restraint Act 2013, which sets the minimum age for marriage at 18 years. The petitioner had argued that the act was against the injunctions of Islam and the constitution. The FSC stated that the act of setting a minimum age for marriage is in accordance with the principles of Shariah and is permissible under Islamic law. The court further held that the protection of the rights, property, and honor of both spouses is a fundamental principle of Islam.
The FSC also stated that the Sindh government is the relevant forum to discuss and legislate provisions for exceptional situations in society. The court dismissed the petitioner’s argument that fixing the age limit would affect old parents who wanted to marry off their underage daughters in their lives, stating that this point is not the main issue in the petition.
The petitioner had submitted that he had married Arzoo Fatima on October 13, 2020, after she converted to Islam, but she was not allowed to live with him due to the Sindh Child Marriages Restraining Act 2013. The petitioner argued that the vires of the law were against the injunctions of Islam and therefore not applicable to Muslims. The FSC rejected this argument, stating that the act of setting the minimum age limit for marriage and the age for an adult eligible to solemnize marriage are not against the injunctions of Islam as laid down in the Holy Quran and Sunnah.
The judgment is expected to have significant implications for the legal age of marriage in Pakistan and may lead to increased protection of the rights of women and girls.