Social customs and traditions in several parts of the country compel parents into marrying their girls early affecting their education careers and health, participants of a policy dialogue on the early, forced child marriage bill in the Punjab said on Friday.
The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) had arranged the dialogue in collaboration with non-governmental organisations Bedari and Sujag Sansar to mark International Day of the Girl Child 2014.
Parliamentarians from Sindh discussed with their fellow parliamentarians and policymakers in the Punjab their experience of passing the Sindh Child Marriage Act 2013, setting 18 years as the minimum marriage age for girls.
That Act makes it mandatory for anyone solemnising a nikah to have a national identity card. It calls for awarding three years imprisonment and a fine of 200,000 on those solemnising a child marriage.
The participants were informed that the Punjab Social Welfare Department, in collaboration with Bedari and the UNFPA, had drafted the Child Marriage Prohibition Act 2013.
Punjab Minister for Population Welfare Begum Zakia Shahnawz chaired the discussion. She promised her support for adopting The Child Marriage Prohibition Act 2013 in the Punjab.
She said girls should be able to stay in school, have children later and develop their talents to the fullest.
“Every girl, no matter where she is born, should have a chance to reach her potential.”
Sindh Minister for Women Development, Social welfare and Special Education Rubina Qaimkhani stressed the need for legislation, awareness and implementation of the law.
Members of the Punjab Women Parliamentary Caucus and Punjab Young Parliamentary Caucus contributed to the discussion expressing their commitment to enact the law.
Ann Keeling, a UNFPA representative said, “A girl who marries early is likely to have children when she is herself a child and is likely to remain uneducated. Delaying marriage will give Pakistan a generation of healthy and more educated mothers who will raise a generation of healthier, more educated children. This is good for girls, good for families and good for Pakistan.”
According to the UNFPA, every year 7.3 million girls under 18 give birth globally. Of them, two million are 14 or younger. The youngest girls suffer the gravest long-term health and social consequences from pregnancy, including high rates of maternal death and obstetric fistula.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 25th, 2014.