ISLAMABAD: A project focusing on the prevention of child marriage in Sindh and Punjab was launched here on Thursday at a moot.
Over 40 per cent of Pakistani brides are under 18, while eight per cent of adolescent married women are already mothers between the ages of 15 and 19, the moot was told. Meanwhile, Punjab, the most populous province, has yet to come up with a law against underage marriage, it added.
Often garbed as a cultural tradition, child marriages expose girls and boys to a far greater risk of losing their childhood, said speakers at the launch of Oxfam and Save the Children Pakistan’s joint project “Bachpan Bachao”, launched with the support of the Dutch government.
The project will be implemented with the organisations’ respective Pakistani partners. The Government of the Netherlands is supporting the project with a donation of €410,000.
Oxfam Pakistan Country Director Arif Jabbar Khan said child marriage was a child rights issue. “Marriage is an institution, but until and unless we respect the institution, we are abusing it,” he said.
Young people often have little or no say in decisions that affect their lives, Khan said.
In his keynote speech, Human Rights Ambassador of the Netherlands Kees van Baar reflected on Dutch support for young people’s basic rights. “Preventing child, early, and forced marriages is a priority of the Dutch government,” he said.
The ambassador was of the view that the ones confronted with such issues could really become agents of change. He advised focusing on areas where problems lay.
“Getting married often means the end of education and reduces a woman’s earning potential later in life. In other words, child marriages have a negative impact, both, on the girls, and on societies as a whole”, the ambassador said.
Justice (retd) Nasira Iqbal suggested that the prevalence of child marriage is far higher than 40%. She said the Child Marriages Restraint Act 1929 needed to be amended to set 18 as the minimum age for marriage for men and women to comply with the equality principle enshrined in Article 25-A of the Constitution of Pakistan. “Sindh has amended its law and it is a welcome outcome. Punjab, the most populous province is urged to do the same,” Iqbal said.
Implementation of article 25-A, adding a CNIC requirement for a marriage contract, making underage marriage a cognisable offence, and granting everyone the right to file a police complaint against it would help reduce child marriages, she added.
Ulema Aman Committee Chairperson Akeelur Rehman said that anyone with the capability to deal with the economic, social and physical issues could get married.
Ramna SDPO Arsala Salim said that safeguarding a child was a collective responsibility.
Prime Minister’s Youth Skills Development Scheme Chief Coordinator Maiza Hameed said that forced marriages deprive children of education and economic opportunities, resulting in a vicious cycle of poverty.
‘Bachpan Bachao’ will focus on influencing policy reforms in Sindh and Punjab and improve access to quality adolescent health services.
During the launch, the audience was engaged on gender and youth rights through a stage play.
Arshad Mahmood from Save the Children said that child brides had the highest mortality rates in Pakistan.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 13th, 2015.