he Lahore High Court (LHC) has mandated the Punjab government to amend its antiquated child marriage laws, specifically targeting the discriminatory age requirements for males and females. This ruling, issued by Justice Shahid Karim, marks a significant step toward gender equality in marriage laws in Pakistan.

The court’s decision came after careful consideration of a public interest litigation that challenged the existing legal framework, which allowed males to marry at 18 while females could be wed at 16. The petition argued that this age disparity not only violated the constitutional rights of equality and non-discrimination but also perpetuated child marriages, with all their associated socio-economic and health risks.

Justice Karim’s ruling emphasized the need for the government to align its legislation with contemporary human rights standards, which advocate for the protection and promotion of children’s rights and gender equality. The judge pointed out that the current laws undermine the potential of women by pushing them into early marriages, which often result in early pregnancies and related health issues, thereby curtailing their educational and economic opportunities.

The verdict highlighted several disturbing statistics, noting that a significant percentage of girls in Pakistan are married before the age of 18, with some being as young as 15. These early marriages are not only a violation of human rights but also hinder national progress by keeping a substantial portion of the population out of the educational and workforce systems.

Justice Karim criticized the existing Child Marriage Act of 1929, describing it as outdated and not reflective of modern principles of equality and child protection. He declared the different legal ages for marriage based on gender as unconstitutional and ordered the immediate revision of the legislation. The judge’s decision is not just a judicial ruling but a call to action for the government to ensure that the legal framework protects all children equally, irrespective of gender.

The court’s directive to the Punjab government to amend the Child Marriage Act and to publish the revised law on its website within 15 days is a clear indication of the urgency of these issues. The judge also addressed the role of education and public awareness in combating child marriage, suggesting that legislative change must be complemented by societal education to change deeply entrenched cultural norms.

This decision has been welcomed by human rights advocates and the general public alike, who see it as a critical move towards protecting young girls from the harms of early marriage. It also positions Pakistan in line with its international human rights obligations, particularly concerning the rights of children and women.

The impact of this ruling extends beyond the courtroom and into the lives of countless young girls who can now envision a life beyond the confines of early marital obligations. It opens up opportunities for them to pursue education and personal development, which are essential for their empowerment and for the progress of the country as a whole.

Legal experts and activists are closely monitoring the implementation of this ruling, hoping it will pave the way for more reforms in family law and other areas where gender discrimination is prevalent. The Punjab government’s response to this ruling and its timely execution of the court’s orders are seen as a test of its commitment to gender equality and child protection.

In conclusion, the Lahore High Court’s decision is a historic and progressive step towards rectifying long-standing legal inequalities. It not only reaffirms the state’s obligation to protect the most vulnerable but also reinforces the idea that true development can only be achieved through the upliftment of all segments of society, especially young women who are pivotal to the nation’s future.