KARACHI: The Sindh Child Marriage Restraint Act 2013 is ready to be presented before the Sindh Assembly for debate. Meanwhile, civil society activists, bureaucrats and the media believe it will take time to implement the bill, for which Health and Nutrition Development Society, an NGO, has been struggling for the last two years.

A workshop was conducted by HANDS, titled ‘Role of the media in eradication of child marriages – motivations for actions’, at the Regent Plaza Hotel on Saturday. The participants discussed the consequences of early marriages, stressing the need for individuals to discourage people from such acts.

“I was against the bill when it was assigned the first time,” admitted Sindh Law department’s additional secretary, Aslam Shaikh. “Today, I am convinced that early child marriages have severe consequences.”

Shaikh reported that the bill was ready and would soon be discussed in the Sindh Assembly. Sharing the history of the first such bill, Shaikh said that a bill was introduced in 1929 and the age of a girl for marriage was fixed at 14 years. He said that with an amendment, the age limit was 16 in 1965. “The age limit is 18 now,” he said.

“Physical puberty is different from mental maturity,” said religious scholar Mohsin Naqvi. “Marriage means responsibility. How can an under-age girl run domestic affairs if she is not mentally mature?” he questioned.

“Child marriage is a crime and a crime reporter has to report it,” stressed Imran Shirvani, a journalist. “It is a rape story. It is a human rights violation story as well as a political story,” he explained.

HANDS chief executive Dr Tanveer Ahmed reported that mortality rate among mothers increased by up to 10 per cent due to early child marriages.

“We have one of the best laws in the world but it is not being implemented,” he lamented. He explained that his organisation had been striving to formulate the bill and pursue it in the provincial assembly since the last two years. Dr Ahmed said that though the bill would be introduced soon, its implementation would be a challenge. “We all have to play our due role,” he stressed.

Bilquis Rehman, the information and communication general manager at HANDS, shared the data for early child marriage ratios in different parts of the country, especially in Sindh. “Jacobabad and rural parts of Matiari have the highest frequency of child marriages,” she explained. Rehman lamented that early marriages had become a norm in society.

Express Tribune

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