Bahrain adulthood law clears hurdle
Manama, November 1, 2011
Plans to increase the age at which a child legally becomes an adult in Bahrain cleared a major hurdle yesterday. The Shura Council voted in favour of a move to raise the age from 15 to 18.
It had been debating the proposal for at least a year as part of discussions about new legislation to protect children.
Objections to articles in the new Child Law have held it up, partly as a result of opposition to increasing the age of adulthood because it conflicted with some Islamic beliefs.
However, Human Rights and Social Development Minister Dr Fatima Al Balooshi appeared in the Shura Council yesterday to urge members to approve the bill as soon as possible.
"The law in its current format is in line with international treaties and conventions Bahrain has signed and one of them bounds us to have the maximum child age raised from 15 to 18," she said.
"This requires legislation to match it and here it is needed in this law to make us in line with the international community. Bahrain is not violating any religious ruling or principle and punishing children aged below 18 the same as adults is catastrophic," Al Balooshi said.
Social Development Ministry representative Dr Fadheela Al Mahroos revealed that only two countries in the world had still not signed international obligations to increase the age at which a child becomes an adult to 18 - Somalia and the US.
"Somalia is in disarray and the US is against it because they have servicemen enter the military at the age of 17, but US President Barrack Obama is now pushing to have that changed," she said.
"There is nothing in Islam against the age increase and everyone here has children and holds them accountable, for example at the age of 17, but giving them the death sentence is unreasonable and unacceptable," she added.
Council first vice-chairman Jamal Fakhro offered his support to the move, saying anything else was a step backwards.
"Egypt and Morocco are two Islamic countries and they have changed their legislations to increase the age to 18, which means we have no problem doing the same," he said.
However, there was opposition from Shura Council member Shaikh Abdulrahman Abdulsalam, who argued that raising the age from 15 to 18 went against Sharia (Islamic) law.
"Bahrain is an Islamic country and anything, even international obligations, which violate the Shariat shouldn't be passed," he said. "We shouldn't blindly follow the West just because we want to show the world that we are modern - modernisation comes through our respect of Islamic values.”
"In Islam, when someone reaches puberty, his parents are not penalised for his actions, but under this law they will be. Our treaties and conventions with God are more important than anything else," he added.
Meanwhile, fellow member Dr Lulwa Al Awadhi warned that increasing the age of adulthood could cause problems in other legislation - particularly the Family Law, which allows Sunni women to get married at 16.
There is no Family Law for the Shi'ite community due to opposition from religious leaders, who wanted domestic disputes to be resolved by an Islamic judge.
"Increasing the age to 18 will mean a problem with the Sunni Family Law and we should consider that," she said. "Bahrain is signing conventions and treaties, but its foundations can't match them and it will be a mistake to approve the increase."
Shura Council member Sayed Deyaa Al Mousawi, a former clergyman, argued the Quran said nothing about age - accusing religious leaders of issuing rulings based on opinion only.
"Everyone is entitled to an opinion including clergymen, but there is nothing solid other than the Quran and it doesn't state anything about ages," he said.
Meanwhile, member Ali Al Asfoor said it was time to decide whether Bahrain was a country ruled by civilian laws or Islamic teachings.
"The problem is Bahrainis choose whatever matches their liking," Al Asfoor said. "If Shariat is in line with their demands, they will ask for things the Islamic way. If it is not, they will say Bahrain is a civilian state and things have to be done according to that. The council has to be clear on whether it wants Bahrain to go in this direction or that, but not having a clear idea is a wrong foundation to how the country should be run."
Councillors will continue discussions on other disputed articles of the law in upcoming sessions. – TradeArabia News Service