Published On: Tue, Sep 29th, 2015

Campaigning against Forced and Child Marriages

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Pakistani woman is likely more discriminated in every sphere of life. However, forced, child and early age marriage is the most abusive grave violation of woman and child rights which not only restricts woman choosing partner of her choice but also detains her enjoying pleasures of childhood and right to education. Consequently, it largely affects health while illiteracy disempowering women keeps the society totally handicapped and the women contributing half of the population remain deprived of playing their essential role in national building. We are well familiar the causes of early age and forced marriages have roots in poverty, higher level of illiteracy and traditionally backward norms being prevailed and practiced in many parts of our society. I therefore in this article intend to lead a campaign by  elaborating more on the consequents of early age and forced marriages in women’ lives and what improvement can be seen due to the steps taken by the government, international organizations and civil societies and will also suggest some measures to sustain protection against violation.

 

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Choosing Pakistan to visualize Gender Based Violence GBV is also logical because there society is severely constrained to their customary social norms and even in many ways the country needs to transform its domestic law into international humanitarian law and  to properly implement them. Though Pakistan has signed UN Declaration of Human Rights 65 years ago, which clear states that forced and marriage before the age of 18 is against the right of child, however, actual practice and implementation of those laws are not yet brought to reality. While envisaging this duality, the spot light again and again takes a turn towards customary norms traditionally having roots in history, poverty, and illiteracy altogether form a blissful circle keeping the society in the same ignorance despite serious legal and moral efforts are also taken. The  high ratio of the harmful practice of GBV from female genital mutilation to forced and early age marriage is already understood and under the focus of international mediators, national lawmakers and humanitarian organizations but unfortunately, when a 60 years old man arranges marriage with an innocent girl of just 8 years or when a innocent girl is swapped over  as payoff to a man of other tribe for the crime which her brother or father has committed or when an adolescent girl is sold to an old man in disguised of marriage,  every enlightened section of the society gets paralyzed to think what that the humanity needs more to change itself.

 

 

Child Brides around the world

Child Brides around the world

According to Unicef estimation mentioned in a report published in 2014, globally around one of three young women currently aged 20 to 24, summing to almost 70 million, were married before the age of 18.  23 million of them entered into marriages or union before the age of 16. In Pakistan alone, nearly half of all marriages engross girls younger than 18, and 70 percent of Pakistani girls are married before their 16th birthday. This ratio is highest in the world. According to a study done by British Forced Marriages Unit on Pakistan, child and early marriages are disadvantageous to placid quality and women’s empowerment, and pose serious threat to health of the mother and her baby. The study further reveals that girl under age of 15 is five time more risk to die during child birth. Children born to minor mothers are not only at high risk of being still born or dying before their first birthday; they are also more likely to have low birth weight, which can have unsympathetic impacts on long term health, physical and cognitive development. The adolescent illiterate mothers are even not well trained to take proper care of infants in the first five years therefore ratio of infant mortality is likely higher among those mothers.

Apart from harmful effects of child and early age marriages on mother and her family, the extent of women’s disempowerment in Pakistan is also frightening. Pakistan is also enlisted among the world’s top most countries which don’t avail women with equal economic, political, educational and health opportunities. Two-thirds of women which make some 30 millions cannot read or write while 7 million girls do not go to school. Women can hardly make up a quarter of the national workforce. As mentioned earlier child marriages refute girls their childhood and interrupts or ends their education. Lack of education further minimizes economic opportunities and earning capacity, affecting the health and well-being of the girl and that of her future children and her entire household. Most of the observations suggest in general a girl who is married as a child is more likely to be poor to stay poor. In the meantime, her low status, seclusion and lack of decision-making power in family matters make her more susceptible prey to domestic and sexual violence and many other abuses. According to report published by International Crises Group in 2015, almost eighty 80% of women in Pakistan are estimated to have experienced domestic violence but only 4% of them go to the police to seek justice.

 

In fact, Pakistan not only lack of woman empowerment unjustly, but it is also a massive loss of opportunity that Pakistan is mislaid on the talent and productivity of half its population, holding back economic growth.

The legal aspects to counter GBV are also getting better in Pakistan. Pakistan has a burly feminist movement, active to bring change in all aspects of woman’s placement in the society. Pakistan has ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Child and also assessed UN Convention on the Elimination of All Kinds of Discrimination against Women. Now Parliamentarians and government leaders at federal and provincial levels are affirming strong commitment to support this change. Civil societies along with international mediators and government institutions are working to create awareness and to improve protection of violation against women and child. In recent years, significant laws have been framed to protect women against domestic violations, to enhance women participation in parliamentary decision making, to support women’s right to inherit and own land, to protect women against sexual harassment at working place and acid crimes. Getting immunity in the cause of honour killing is now against the law.

UN Convention on the Rights of Child which clearly prohibit marriage before 18, now this legislation exists at federal and provincial level. Sindh was the first to legislate Early Age Marriage Restrained Act in 2013 which declares marriage before 18 is against the child rights. Following the child rights and protection of violation against women recent Punjab government have also passed landmark legislations for instance The Punjab Free and Compulsory Education Act 2014 which clearly states education till the age of 16 is free and state responsibility, if state fails then all courts are responsible to avail citizens with free and compulsory education.  The second milestone is Protection of Violation against Women, Punjab Bill 2015; Violation against Women Centres are being setup in every district of Punjab where female district officers will register report and judge conditions of all kinds of crimes committed against women.

 

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Women empowerment and education has been mainstream agenda in both PML-N federal and Punjab provincial governments. A large number of women have been benefited through PM Youth Loan Scheme where 50% quota has been allocated for women and  33% representation is given to woman in decision making boards and committees working under the Punjab government. However we still need to do more to clean our society from the abuse of forced and early age marriage. Punjab government should also pass new legislation regarding minimum age law marriage. In March 2015, Child Marriage Restraint Act 1929 was passed after certain amendment in which now forced and early age marriage carries harsher punishments and fines for the Nikah Khwan who solemnizes the marriage and the brides guardian and the minimum age is set to be 16 for girl and 18 for boy. Punjab government should also transform minimum age law as per UN Convention on the Rights of Child. The same law should also be followed by other provinces as in KPK and Baluchistan minimum age for girl is 16.

Along with the minimum age limit, the second parameter which may prove vital is the state role to implement compulsory education till the age of 18.  Existing legislations regarding free & compulsory education should fully be implemented by using all means involving institutions, civil society, teachers and parents. Legislation may further be implemented bounding schools, parents and task forces to insure 100% enrolment of girls in the schools till the age of 18.  Logically, education is the most powerful tool delaying age at which girl marries. Being a school girl, a girl is seen still a child. Education enhances girls’ knowledge, skills and social networks that help raise their aspirations and those of her parents which altogether compose awareness to positively contribute toward social changes with tolerability. Delaying marriage improves education, health and job opportunities, and trims down the menace to fall prey to violence or abuse. As hypothesized earlier educated woman has an insightful impact on the future economic and welfare prospects not only for her own family but also for the prosperity of whole society.

Somewhere in remote areas of Pakistan, people are extremely constrained to traditionally backward believes; they don’t care whatever the legislations have been famed. Campaign should also be launched by humanitarian organizations and this campaign should also be a part of governments’ policies to aware people about children rights, responsibility of the citizens and consequents of forced and child marriages. Women and girls should be at the heart of the government development work.

Hopefully, we will succeed in this campaign to stop harmful practices of GBV by mobilising governments, civil society and businesses leaders, men, women, girls and boys across Pakistan and the world. The strong signal of commitment are affirmed by the recent Pakistani PML-N government. A brighter future for Pakistan is possibly waiting when we will be able to tie together the skills, talent and productivity of its entire people. Every woman and man, girl and boy in Pakistan, including international friends and partners, has a role to play in this campaign.

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By Muhammad Bilal Khan

The writer is a Social Science Researcher and Human Rights Activist.

He can be reached at bilalkhan_55@yahoo.com

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