“Instead of registering cases, civil society has focused on increasing the marriageable age for children,” Fauzia Viqar, the Commission on the Status of Women chairperson, said on Friday.
Viqar was speaking at a capacity building seminar organised by the Plan International in collaboration with Rahnuma. The seminar was arranged in connection with an ongoing project of the two organisations to raise awareness on child marriage in Vehari, Rajanpur and Muzaffargarh. Several government officials and project implementation partners were present on the occasion.
Viqar said unreported cases distorted government’s perception of the issue. “From the number of registered cases, it appears that child marriage is not a big problem. The statistics make it difficult to advocate policy recommendations in this regard,” she said.
Viqar talked about the recent amendments to legislation in this regard, including the Child Marriage Restraint Act, 1923 and the Family Courts Act, 1963. She said that cases could be registered under both acts. “If police refuse to register a case, the complainant can go to a judicial magistrate,” she said.
She said the Commission on the Status of Women had been playing its part against child and forced marriages. “We have introduced a helpline where a complainant can seek help if both police and the magistrate do not respond in time,” she said.
Strengthening Participatory Organisation regional head Salman Abid stressed the need for highlighting the issue through the media and presenting it as a social issue instead of a religious one. “We should simplify the problem and present in a manner that is socially acceptable,” he said.
Abid said radio was an important tool for communication. “Let’s talk about the impact of early marriages on physical and mental health of young girls,” he said.
MPA Alia Aftab said the marriageable age for girls had not been increased to 18 years for various reasons. “We have faced opposition not only from the Islamic Ideology Council but also from women MPAs who think that a marriage can be arranged when a child reaches puberty.”
“The women caucus is working on the issue. We plan to introduce a resolution in the Punjab Assembly in this regard,” she said.
Aftab stressed the need for educating children on the issue. “It is important to have a discussion with children in their teens.”
Participants of the workshop also visited the Child Protection Bureau’s office.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 19th, 2015.