Child marriage is one of the most debated topics in the province and the positive response to awareness campaigns shows that parents may be willing to change the worrying trend of underage marriages.
Members of various organisations shared their experiences on the issue at a seminar organised by Rutgers World Population Foundation (WPF) in collaboration with the Health and Nutrition Development Society (Hands) at the Pearl Continental hotel on Monday.
Speakers at the seminar also claimed that a bill on the issue is almost ready and will soon be tabled in the provincial assembly. "A couple that doesn't have an understanding of social responsibilities cannot start a healthy family and there is no evidence that says that this [underage marriage] is allowed in Shariah," said religious scholar Dr Mohsin Naqvi. "One does not need to be an expert to understand the consequences of such marriages."
Speaking about the campaign against child marriage, Rutgers WPF country representative Qadeer Baig was happy with the progress. "Dealing with the issue of child marriage in Sindh has been a daunting task but we have come a long way in realising girls' rights to education, health and better life opportunities," said Baig. "It is a big achievement for us that our efforts have caused people to question their methods." Other speakers at the seminar were also happy with the progress made, especially with the announcement of the bill. "While the bill is a commendable achievement, the main issues start after it is approved in the assembly," said additional law secretary Aslam Shaikh. "Implementation of the law is just as important as the bill itself."
Shaikh added that before the formation of a Women Development Department, no provincial department was willing to own the bill and also praised the media for taking an active interest.
Despite the importance given to the issue, nearly 70 per cent of the country's population gets married after the age of 18, according to Hands chief executive officer Dr Tanveer Sheikh. "Only 30 per cent of the total population is married at an early age," he claimed.
The issue is, however, most rampant in two districts of Sindh - Jacobabad and Matiari. "The main reason for this is poverty," said Saira, a social worker from Jacobabad. "We have tried our best to educate people about the problem and the numbers [of child marriages] are decreasing." ActionAid's Aroosa Khatri said that the bill, if passed in the assembly, will serve as an example for other provinces. During her speech, Khatri highlighted one of the biggest problems with child marriage - a rise in infant mortality.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 2nd, 2014.
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