Labor backbencher Nat Cook pointed out that “the Commonwealth criminal code already contains offences relating to forced marriage, both when they involve a child and when they involve a person over the age of 18.” Sanderson, however, “argued that strengthening the state law would have helped increase awareness of the problem and made it easier for authorities to take action quickly.”
However, that might have offended a certain easily-offended population. After all, few things are more abundantly attested in Islamic law than the permissibility of child marriage. Islamic tradition records that Muhammad’s favorite wife, Aisha, was six when Muhammad wedded her and nine when he consummated the marriage:
“The Prophet wrote the (marriage contract) with Aisha while she was six years old and consummated his marriage with her while she was nine years old and she remained with him for nine years (i.e. till his death)” (Bukhari 7.62.88).
Another tradition has Aisha herself recount the scene:
The Prophet engaged me when I was a girl of six (years). We went to Medina and stayed at the home of Bani-al-Harith bin Khazraj. Then I got ill and my hair fell down. Later on my hair grew (again) and my mother, Um Ruman, came to me while I was playing in a swing with some of my girl friends. She called me, and I went to her, not knowing what she wanted to do to me. She caught me by the hand and made me stand at the door of the house. I was breathless then, and when my breathing became all right, she took some water and rubbed my face and head with it. Then she took me into the house. There in the house I saw some Ansari women who said, “Best wishes and Allah’s Blessing and a good luck.” Then she entrusted me to them and they prepared me (for the marriage). Unexpectedly Allah’s Apostle came to me in the forenoon and my mother handed me over to him, and at that time I was a girl of nine years of age. (Bukhari 5.58.234).
Muhammad was at this time fifty-four years old.
Marrying young girls was not all that unusual for its time, but because in Islam Muhammad is the supreme example of conduct (cf. Qur’an 33:21), he is considered exemplary in this unto today. And so in April 2011, the Bangladesh Mufti Fazlul Haque Amini declared that those trying to pass a law banning child marriage in that country were putting Muhammad in a bad light: “Banning child marriage will cause challenging the marriage of the holy prophet of Islam, [putting] the moral character of the prophet into controversy and challenge.” He added a threat: “Islam permits child marriage and it will not be tolerated if any ruler will ever try to touch this issue in the name of giving more rights to women.” The Mufti said that 200,000 jihadists were ready to sacrifice their lives for any law restricting child marriage.
Likewise the influential website Islamonline.com in December 2010 justified child marriage by invoking not only Muhammad’s example, but the Qur’an as well:
The Noble Qur’an has also mentioned the waiting period [i.e. for a divorced wife to remarry] for the wife who has not yet menstruated, saying: “And those who no longer expect menstruation among your women, if you doubt, then their period is three months, and [also for] those who have not menstruated” [Qur’an 65:4]. Since this is not negated later, we can take from this verse that it is permissible to have sexual intercourse with a prepubescent girl. The Qur’an is not like the books of jurisprudence which mention what the implications of things are, even if they are prohibited. It is true that the prophet entered into a marriage contract with A’isha when she was six years old, however he did not have sex with her until she was nine years old, according to al-Bukhari.
Other countries make Muhammad’s example the basis of their laws regarding the legal marriageable age for girls. Article 1041 of the Civil Code of the Islamic Republic of Iran states that girls can be engaged before the age of nine, and married at nine: “Marriage before puberty (nine full lunar years for girls) is prohibited. Marriage contracted before reaching puberty with the permission of the guardian is valid provided that the interests of the ward are duly observed.”
According to Amir Taheri in The Spirit of Allah: Khomeini and the Islamic Revolution (pp. 90-91), Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini himself married a ten-year-old girl when he was twenty-eight. Khomeini called marriage to a prepubescent girl “a divine blessing,” and advised the faithful to give their own daughters away accordingly: “Do your best to ensure that your daughters do not see their first blood in your house.” When he took power in Iran, he lowered the legal marriageable age of girls to nine, in accord with Muhammad’s example.
“Government MPs reject Opposition child protection spokeswoman Rachel Sanderson’s Bill to prevent forced child marriages,” by Lauren Novak, Perth Now, November 30, 2016:
A BID to better protect South Australian children from being taken overseas for forced marriages has failed after the State Government blocked it.
Opposition child protection spokeswoman Rachel Sanderson had put proposed laws to Parliament to enforce a penalty of up to 19 years in jail for people who take a child overseas to be forced into marriage.
However, Government MPs voted against the Bill this morning and it was rejected 19 to 15.
Labor backbencher Nat Cook stressed that the Government was opposed to child marriage but argued that existing federal laws adequately covered the issue.
“Personally, it makes me feel sick to think about the pain and terror and sadness that victims (of child marriage) must go through,” she said.
“(But) the Commonwealth criminal code already contains offences relating to forced marriage, both when they involve a child and when they involve a person over the age of 18.
“Indeed, the Commonwealth provisions cover a broader range of conduct associated with forced marriage (than Ms Sanderson’s Bill).”
Ms Sanderson argued that strengthening the state law would have helped increase awareness of the problem and made it easier for authorities to take action quickly.
She was prompted to put forward the legislation after hearing of at least two cases of South Australian girls feared at risk of being taken out of the state to be married.
Her proposed changes would have enabled police or the head of the state’s child protection department to apply to a court to prevent a child from being taken out of the state, temporarily remove the child’s passport or interview the child if it was suspected they were at risk of forced marriage.
Those who took a child out of the state to be married, or attempted to, would face up to 15 years in jail.
Where a child was aged 12 years or younger, the penalty would be up to 19 years in jail.
Similar changes have been made to state law to protect children at risk of genital mutilation….
The Australian Federal Police investigated 20 matters of suspected forced marriage in Australia in the first nine months of last year….
Eleven of the investigations involved persons under the age of 18 years.