My own concern is not whether a woman (or girl) gets married at 14, 16 or 18. What concerns me is whether she is allowed to complete secondary school or not, before getting married.
A secondary school certificate is the minimum education everyone needs in order to fend for themselves later in life. Girls should be allowed to acquire this minimum before going into marriage so that they could fend for themselves in the event of divorce, widowhood or their husbands falling on hard times.
I have sisters who at a point in their lives were divorced or widowed but were able to take care of themselves because they are educated and employed.
They were able to do that because my father (who was a ‘conservative’ Muslim by all standards) allowed them to complete secondary school before marriage way back in the 70s.
If my father had figured that out in the 70s, I find it hard to comprehend why this is even a matter for argument in 2013. If early marriage that interferes with the ability of a girl to complete secondary school is encouraged ostensibly in order to protect her from immoral ways, I want to say that such a girl will still be left with a risk of falling into immorality later in her life if she gets divorced or widowed and is not able to fend for herself.
There is no woman that is at risk of falling into immorality more than the woman who cannot fend for herself. I agree that the National Assembly should not legislate counter to citizens’ religious beliefs but that does not absolve the Muslim community of the responsibility to, on its own, ensure that girls are equipped with the minimum they need to face whatever life could throw at them in the future.