Pakistan Cracks Down On Child Marriage With Amendments To Existing Law

child-marriage

Child marriage is one of the most heinous acts committed against young boys and girls around the world. While it affects both genders, is disproportionately disempowers girls especially in areas where they are considered an economic burden to families who often marry them off to men much much older than their daughters. Child marriage robs a girl of a future.

There are some countries where child/early/forced marriage is more rife than some, including Pakistan. It is very common in rural areas where it is considered a cultural custom regulated by a religious council who approve the act.

In 2014 UNICEF estimated that 3% of girls currently between the ages of 20-24 were married by the age of 15, and 21% by the age of 18.

Pakistan’s constitution does actually have a law against child marriage called the Child Marriage Restraint Act of 1929, but it didn’t go into effect until  a decade later. However this law has not been stringent enough to stop the crime from happening all over the country.

In a bid to enforce this law, certain states have been imposing great fines and jail sentences in the hope that it will deter families from essentially selling their child and turning them into a financial transaction.

In 2014 the Sindh Assembly province became the first to amend legislation that would increase penalties for parents who allow their children to be married before the age of 18. And, now, a second province has joined the fight. Punjab has amended its state legislation to match that of the Sindh Assembly and this sends a loud and clear statement to the rest of Pakistan because it is the most populous province.

child-marriage

According to a Reuters report, The Punjab Child Marriage Restraint Act increases the possible jail term for breaking the law to six months from one month and raised the potential fine to Rs50,000 (US$490) from Rs1,000 (US$10) for both parents and clerics.

This is also the first time religious clerics could face penalties and this is crucial amendment of the law.

“The Act has been enacted to curb the menace of child marriages prevalent in the country and to save the women from exploitation,” Punjab Law Minister Mujtaba Shujaur Rehman told local media.

“It deprives her of education, right to development and growth and exposes her to health risks and gender-based violence,” said Khawar Mumtaz, chair of the National Commission on the Status of Women (NCSW), a statutory body established in 2000.

One of the biggest hurdles in creating legislation to curb this type of crime is that statistics can often be hard to come by, or are not comprehensive enough due to the lack of citizens reporting child marriages out of fear.

But a non-governmental organization, Sahil, in its annual report ‘The Cruel Number 2013’ recorded 96 cases of child marriages in the country of 182 million people, an increase of 21 percent from 2012. A Pakistani helpline for women and children, the Madadgar Helpline, recorded 42 cases of early and forced marriages in the first four months of 2014.

This law is a huge step forward, but activist groups and organizations are more needed than ever to be able to spread awareness about the dangers of child marriage in communities, and better aid government and local authorities to know how widespread this is.

According to the activist group Men Unite which, is an alliance of over 2200 gender equality organizations in Pakistan, attention to child marriage in Pakistan is at an “all time high.” The alliance is seeking to mobilize and educate men on the role they play in preventing this crime from continuing from one generation to another.

child-marriage

“Pro-women laws in Pakistan are not implemented and are, by and large, rejected because little effort is made to reach the communities, especially not the men. Many don’t buy into these laws. They feel criminalized and left behind. But there are a large number of men who are ready to change. They just need a little help,” said Qamar Naseem, the national coordinator of the alliance.

“We want it to be a movement of men standing with women and girls in the fight against violence. We must bring back men into the picture and induce a culture where they take action against violence,” he said.

Along with the impact on young girls, Qamar says society and the government should also remember how child marriage can affect boys caught in it.

They are burdened with financial responsibilities, unable to support their families. It is not just girls who are unable to marry by choice. The choice of marriage is made by the elders, the parents – not the boy or the girl,” Qamar explained.

This alliance is hoping they can play their part in making a difference at a cultural level, while the new amendments to the Child Marriage Act being implemented by the two aforementioned provinces will also hopefully deter families from forcing children into marriage.

The way forward for a country’s economy is not to buy, sell and trade human beings as commodities, it is by empowering them to be part of civil society and contribute as equal members. We eagerly await to see the impact of the law amendment and whether it spreads to more areas in Pakistan.

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  1. Pingback: 'Dukhtar' - Pakistan's First Feminist Film, Directed By A Woman, To Be Released In Oct.

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