ISLAMABAD: Pakistan's top religious body has declared the prohibition of child marriage incompatible with Islam and demanded that the government amend its laws, prompting outrage from human rights activists.
The Council of Islamic Ideology (CII), which was formed in 1962 to advise parliament on the compatibility of laws with Sharia, also ruled that a man does not need permission from his wife if he wants to marry another woman.
Tahir Ashrafi, a member of the body told AFP on Wednesday that Pakistan's Prohibition of Child Marriages Act, which stipulates the age of marriage at 16 for women and 18 for men, was not in accordance with Islamic teachings.
"There is no specific age limit for marriage in Sharia," he said. "Sharia says an individual can marry when he or she reaches puberty and puberty cannot be defined by age," adding: "Family members can marry a child if they think he or she has reached puberty."
He added that the Muslim Family Laws Ordinance, which requires a wife to give her consent before her husband takes a second spouse, was also illegitimate.
"Islam allows to marry four women so there is no question of asking the consent of first wife if a man wants to marry a second time," he said.
Activists have called on parliament to ignore both recommendations, terming them a violation of women's fundamental rights.
Zohra Yusuf, chairperson of the independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan said the rulings were "against the spirit of the religion."
She questioned why laws against child marriage, which have been in place since the country was created, were being reviewed now.
The council "wishes to open a new front against women and to reinforce the militants' siege of the state," she said, referring to a homegrown insurgency that has raged for a decade and claimed thousands of lives.
The council had drawn widespread criticism in the past for other rulings.
Last November, it declared DNA inadmissible evidence in rape cases, supporting instead the revival of an Islamic law that makes it mandatory for an alleged rape victim to provide four witnesses to back their claims.
Parliament did not act on the ruling.