Child marriage – a silent menace

According to UNICEF’s country statics, marking the period 1987 to 2005, total urban child marriages in Pakistan amounted to 21 percent of all children.

By Javed Hussain
The early girl marriage is very silent menace which violates the right of freedom of expression, choice and decision making and also leaves worst impact on health of girls. Child marriages do not only leave worst impacts on health, but also psycho-social stress in their lives and those girls who got married were unable to manage the children domestic not properly. These incidents break their dreams, their right to play and right to enjoy the childhood. As due to agrarian social dynamics of the communities these cases are not reported and nor any other community member appose to raise voice against this evil. Rural poverty and absence of poor socio-economic profiles of families is also a key factor where parents are unable to pay for family members. Understanding of socio-economic contexts is very necessary that families with poor livelihood sources and poor socio-economic profile manage such marriages to unable to feed properly to their girls, so girls could be victims of early marriages as poverty is one the major factors for such practice. Besides, girls’ education ratio in secondary schools is miserably low in the Sindh province A large number of girls leave schools, secondary education due to their vulnerability to be married off in tender age besides distanced schools from villages, lack of transportation, poor safety and security and lack of sufficient infrastructure and basic water and sanitation service in schools. Tharparker, Tando Muhammad Khan, Sukkur, Dadu, Larkana, Jecobabad, Badin, Mipurphas, Thatta , Sanghar, Khairpur Mirs, Umerkot have high frequency of such incidents of the child marriages but to unavailability of data is hard to develop evidence.
According to Pakistan Demographic and Health Survey (2007), she said while 50 per cent of women (between 15 and 29 years) were married at the age of 20, around seven per cent become mothers at 15. According to UNICEF’s country statics, marking the period 1987 to 2005, total urban child marriages amounted to 21 percent of all children, total rural child marriages amounted to 37 percent and total average child marriages equaled 32 percent of children.
Pakistan was among the first States, who proposed a target to end child marriage by 2030 in discussions of the Open Working Group on the Sustainable Development Goals, a major inter-governmental process.
Sindh Child Marriage Restraint Act 2013 (SCMRA) prohibiting marriage of children below 18 years is a great measure and legislative tool to curb early marriages in Sindh province. In April 2014 by the Sindh Assembly, unanimously adopted the Sindh Child Marriage Restraint Act, increasing the minimum age of marriage to 18 and making marriage below 18 a punishable offence. The SCMRA is more upgraded version of the Child marriages restraint act in 1929. Earlier the Child Marriage Restraint Act 1929 was being implementing which was outdated was not active as much. The business rules of law developed and have been placed recently.
Government mechanisms to implement the said law are little convincing and incapable to deal with the cases of early marriages. According to recent Sindh Police data only 51 cases have been registered across the province regarding SCMRA2013. There are several contributing factor of poor implementation of the law. The District Monitoring Committees are notified under the law but they have got poor response and are ineffective to enforce the law at local level. The DMCs are not functional in districts expect few ones where a number of local NGOs got them activated, their inter-departmental coordination mechanism is still not well coordinated, which play a key role in implementation of the law at local level. These DMCs need more institutional support to act as effective platform to prevent early marriages. Child Protection Units CPU has to perform a basic role in implementing the law but at local level they are lacking with resources and proper infrastructure to run in well manner. Police officials are not much aware about the. Promotion of law by the government is very slower so communities at grass root level are not aware of the law while gender discriminatory behavior in rural areas at family level leads to early marriages and VAW. Although some civil society organizations have done some work for promoting awareness and translating law in local languages to reach a limited coverage of the communities. Local Niakhkhuwans have poor awareness about the law while solemnizing marriages, thus; still a large number of Nikahkhuwans need to be formalized on legal aspects.
This initiative was very good step of the Sindh government to be first to legislate on child marriages in country and praised by the larger groups of the civil society but the implementation of law remain slower in province. In my view without effective implementation any new law could not be applied at local level. There are flaws in implementation regarding this law. A nonprofit organization Sindh Community Foundation conducted first review of the law after 4 years of promulgation to understand the progress and implementation status of the law in province. The review has come up with analysis of the gaps and challenges in implementation of the law.
Considering expediting the implementation process of law few suggestions are here; Public awareness and legal education of relevant duty bearers on the law should be initiated at extensive level. Particularly field orientation/trainings for Police Station level-Reporting officer, Duty officer, Investigation Officers, Supervisory Officers need to be conducted. Likewise, staff of Union Council along with Nikkah registrars and local government elected representatives needs to be educated on the law.
The provincial commission on child marriage, and establishment of the district monitoring Committees to be set under the law should be established in complete manner at the earliest and made activated through the involvement of various role players. Proper budget for the for implementation of the law should be allocated annually and utilization be analyzed. Implementing agencies should make their annual work plan by incorporating both promotional and protection aspects of Law.
At concluding there is need to consider all those factors to curb early marriages through multi-sectoral program support of poverty reduction, girls education, improved institutional response , inter departmental co-coordinating mechanism to implement the law in its true spirit.
Javed Hussain is social development practitioner.

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