PESHAWAR: Non-governmental organisations and civil society members lashed out at the provincial government for preparing a “flawed draft” of the K-P Child Marriage Restraint Bill 2016. They demanded lawmakers make significant amendments in the draft so it could prove beneficial, practically and socially.
A press release issued on Tuesday said a consultation meeting was held at Peshawar Press Club to review the draft bill and develop consensus to improve it before it is presented at the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Assembly. The consultation aimed to reduce ideological conflict among all multi-stakeholders.
The event was organised by Blue Veins in coordination with Canada Fund for Local Initiatives (CFLI). The event was attended by NGO representatives, lawyers, students and political activists.
Agents of change
While speaking to participants, Blue Veins programme coordinator Qamar Naseem said, “It has become a norm that when bills are presented in the provincial assembly for endorsement without prior consultations, they face criticism.” He added, “This happens as a result of ideological and political conflicts as well as a lack of consensus among different alliances, public and private organisations, and activists.”
Naseem pointed out the existing version of the bill is poorly drafted and full of flaws which indicated the government’s lack of interest in dealing with the matter.
“Blue Veins will conduct a series of multi-stakeholder consultations and recommendations will be shared with the Provincial Commission on the Status of Women, child welfare commission, human rights directorate and K-P legislators.”
Human Rights Director Ghulam Ali said child marriage is closely associated with schooling for girls as poverty leads many families to withdraw their daughters from school and marry them at young ages. “These girls are denied the proven benefits of education, which include improved health, balanced fertility and increased economic productivity,” he said.
Appreciating the analysis of the bill, Provincial Commission on the Status of Women Chairperson Neelam Toru said, “Such consultations by civil society are vital as they help the government identify gaps in the proposed legislations.” She added, “Joint efforts should be undertaken by the government and civil society members to address the challenging issue.”
Pakhtunkhwa Civil Society Network coordinator Taimur Kamal added, “Practices in relation to child marriages should be changed as huge age differences in marriages are common and may limit married girls’ autonomy and decision-making ability.”
The participants of the consultation expressed concern on the existing draft of the bill and said it needed to be improved significantly. They urged authorities to engage religious leaders in getting support on this legislation.
Several recommendations were put forward by participants regarding the draft, including raising awareness on early marriages and the human rights abuses it perpetuates, raising the minimum legal age of marriage to 18, engaging communities through public campaigns, introducing incentive schemes, and developing socio-economic programmes for girls.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 13th, 2016.