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Provinces urged to pass Child Marriages Restraint Act

Jan 29, 2015

Myra Imran
Thursday, January 29, 2015 
From Print Edition

 

Islamabad

 

While appreciating Sindh for becoming the first province to pass Child Marriages Restraint Act, speakers of the National Conference on Child Marriages urged other provinces to follow suit.

 

The ‘National Conference on Child Marriages in Pakistan: Challenges and Strategies’ was organised on Wednesday by Democratic Commission for Human Development (DCHD) and National Commission on the Status of Women (NCSW) with the support of Save the Children.

 

Speakers termed education the strongest strategy against child marriages.

 

Project Coordinator from DCHD Arshad Mehmood inaugurated the conference by pointing out how the current applicable law on child marriages in Pakistan, Child Marriage Restraint Act was enacted in 1929 and there it has not been repealed since. “The first positive development by the legislature in the fight against child marriages took place in 2014 when Sindh became the first province to pass the Sindh Child Marriages Restraint Act. The rest of the country has yet to follow suit,” he said.

 

NCSW Chairperson Khawar Mumtaz talked about the harmful effects of child marriages on girl children who are deprived of education, their right to development and growth while being exposed to health risks and gender-based violence. She suggested the necessity for standardising the minimum age of marriage for girls within the laws. She assured that women’s caucus both at the National and provincial level was ready to move forward with a Child Marriage Restraint Law and urged the civil society to create momentum and connect with the law makers for action.

 

Punjab Provincial Commission on the Status of Women (PCSW) Chairperson Fauzia Viqar shared the Punjab Cabinet’s plan to meet during this week to discuss amendments in the current family law. These changes also include raising the minimum marriageable age of girls from 16 to 18 years. The meeting will also discuss the proposal of penalizing non-registration of marriages with a fine of Rs50,000, making production of CNIC of bride and groom mandatory, extending the punishment of child marriage to groom’s father/ guardian and the individual solemnizing the marriage as well as the adult groom.

 

In addition, the Punjab government will also consider standardising the nikkahnama format and penalising usage of a nonstandard form besides educating girls and boys on the contents of the nikkahnama in schools.

 

Fouzia concluded with sharing the number of a helpline (0800-93372) set up by the Punjab PCSW as a second level complaint redress mechanism for registering complaints of cases of child marriage. She assured that the PCSW would take up the cases with the relevant police department and take disciplinary measures.

 

Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa PCSW Chairperson Neelam Turu talked about the constraints of advocating for a law against child marriages. She shared that the advocacy faced resistance from law makers due to the culturally closed nature of the province where girls are considered as the ‘honour’ of the family and are taken out of school around reaching puberty due to cultural and related religious concerns.

 

Justice Kohli from PCSW Balochistan shared the cultural practice of betrothal of babies in the province and the relation to a lack of education. He agreed with Turu about the difficulties faced in tackling the attitudes and mindset of law makers in order to bring about legislation against child marriages.

 

Save the Children Director Arshad Mahmood said that various factors relate to this issue of child marriages such as poverty and the women’s rights situation in Pakistan. One such relating factor is the maternal mortality rate which at present is 276 per 100,000 live births, nationally. “At this rate and with only less than 300 days left till the MDG deadline, Pakistan is not on track to meet the target for MDG 5 of reducing maternal mortality,” he said.

 

Council Member of DCHD Dr. A H Nayyar discussed the relation of child marriages with the cultural attitudes and poverty in the society and opined how those are the biggest challenge to tackling the issue of child marriages. “Religious arguments against raising the minimum age of marriage could be addressed by taking religious leaders and clerics on board,” he added. He recommended implementation of Article 25A of the Constitution which would effectually address the issue.

 

Assistant Director of the Social Welfare (Women) Department from Azad Jammu and Kashmir, Nusrat Shaheen shared the necessity for conducting a research on child marriages in AJK. However, she shared the commendable high literacy rate of girls in the state which is approximately 80 per cent while for boys it is 90 per cent.

 

Later, a panel of civil society organization, members from Alliance Against Child Marriage, Sindh, Punjab and KP, Plan International and ITA discussed the important role that civil society must play in monitoring the implementation of existing legal framework on the subject. The recommendations that reverberated were the need to improve coordination and review ways to integrate strategies.

 

Promotion of birth registration, training nikkahkhwan to require proof of age, and district level oversight mechanisms were also suggested.

 

The religious leaders that joined the panel during the interactive session urged the need for developing consensus and shared that child marriage was more a cultural practice than a religious one. They opined on the need for addressing this cultural mindset.

 

The conference concluded with an interactive session between on child marriages and religion, education, health, and gender based violence.

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