ISLAMABAD: The issue of early marriages should not only be related to sexual reproductive health but needs to be considered a political, criminal and human rights issue.
These views were shared by participants at a dialogue on sexual reproductive health rights (SRHR) held at a local hotel on Monday. They expressed concern over parents who marry off their daughters before reaching puberty, saying these ‘elders’ should be held accountable by the government. They said every MNA and MPA should also be answerable to the government if a girl in their area becomes a victim of child marriage.
Experts also lamented that talking about SRHR is still considered a taboo in the country and most parents are reluctant to educate their children on reproductive health when they start reaching puberty.
“For a girl, early child marriage coupled with lack of information about sexual reproductive health leads to various health complications which badly affect her physical and mental health,” said Natasha Sajjad, programme officer advocacy at Rutgers WPF Pakistan.
According to a research study on sexual and reproductive heath of young people by Rutgers WPF Pakistan, only 13 per cent of youth are aware of SRH Rights.
Besides, 65 per cent of young people are comfortable discussing their sexual health with professional healthcare providers, whereas 62 per cent of young people preferred visiting quacks and pirs regarding sexual or reproductive heath issues.
The reason for preferring these unprofessionals was the ‘un-empathetic’ attitude of doctors and healthcare providers, according to the report.
The research further reveals that only 25 per cent of young people realise that they have the right to information regarding their sexual and reproductive health.
In comparison to a similar research conducted in 2009, awareness on sexual and reproductive health and rights has risen from 7 per cent to 13 per cent, whereas the minimum acceptable level is 50 per cent.
Sajjad said in Pakistan, it is still very difficult to use the words ‘sexual’ and ‘reproductive’ in front of government officials who are dealing with the issue and represent Pakistan at the international level over the subject.
“Whenever we use this word they think there is a Western agenda behind it therefore they do not pay much heed,” she said.
Therefore, now the government refers to it as ‘Life Skilled Base Education’ which helps adolescents deal with political, social, psychological and social changes talking place in their lives and mainly focuses on sensitising them about their SRHR, she said.
Sajjad also lamented that it is considered that only married couples can consult a doctor to know about their sexual health and unmarried people are barred from such consultation.
Imran Shervani, a senior journalist and one of the speakers on the event, said early marriages mostly result in having several children and when a mother feels like her health condition does not permit her to have more children, she opts for an unsafe abortion.
“Most of the time abortion by a quack causes complications like Fistula among women who later goes into isolation because of the disease and prefers to die,” he said.
He was of the view that in Pakistan early marriages should be considered as rape and people who are involved in this should be punished.
Shervani further expressed concern over the poor relationship between parents and children due to which parents feel uncomfortable to talk to their children about changes that will occur in their bodies at puberty.
“This forces children to seek many other ways to get information on their sexual reproductive health such as through their friends, internet, watching adult films which mostly mislead them,” he said.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 25th, 2014.