LARKANA/KARACHI: Rukhsana was 16 years old when she was married off to a 45-year-old widower. The wedding ceremony was held in a little village in Larkana district in 2015, a year after the Sindh Child Marriage Restraint Act, 2013 was passed by the Sindh Assembly.
Recalling the early days of her marriage, Rukhsana said it was a ‘cruel history’ that victimised girls.
Her parents sold her for two acres of agricultural land. A few days after her nikkah, Rukhsana’s parents hand second thoughts about handing over their young daughter to the groom. But the panchayat (village council) intervened and finally the minor girl was handed over to her in-laws. “During the initial days, I used to sleep in my mother-in-law’s room instead of my bearded husband who was older than my father. But after a year, I was pushed into martial life” she said.
No one sought consent from Rukhsana or even her mother about the marriage. Subsequently, this troubled marriage landed Rukhsana in Darul Aman, Larkana. “My husband tried to sodomise me and when I refused he began to beat me. I told my mother about the situation and have now taken refuge here,” she said.
Rukhsana is not the only victim of child marriage – this menace is prevalent across the province, despite the Sindh Child Marriage Restraint Act being passed by the Sindh Assembly in 2014.
Though the Act has declared marriage of people below the age of 18 punishable, no one takes it seriously. This has given rise to an alarming situation and the authorities concerned are disinclined to curb this social evil.
Shahi Babar village in Tando Mohammad Khan district has around 200 households, almost all of which depend on agriculture and livestock rearing for their livelihoods. Since there is male dominancy and lack of education in the village, people are still proud to marry off their daughters at an early age. Reports pouring in suggest that the father of two minor daughters, Daud Babar, had them married off to men living in the same village.
Sindh Community Foundation (SCF) Executive Director Javed Hussain has conducted research on the shortcomings and challenges in the implementation of this law. Sharing the findings of his research, he said, “The major stakeholders responsible for implementing the law are either not cognizant or less aware about it.”
He said nikkah registrars, who are responsible for ensuring that all solemnised marriages do not involve children, are by and large unaware of the law in Sindh. “The police, who comprise the central agency of criminal justice and are responsible for taking cognizance of child marriage offenses without court warrants, are not mobilised regarding the law,” he said, adding that despite passing the law, the government does not take it seriously.
“Awareness about the law is not enough. The general public who actually practice and promote child marriages should also be made aware about the law [and its ramifications],” he said. According to Hussain, district and provincial monitoring committees on child marriages were supposed to be formed as per the law, but nothing has been done. “No district is spared and child marriages continue unabated,” he said.
According to child rights activists, the law against child marriage has been passed but it does not provide provisions for the dissolution of a child marriage after it has already been solemnised. This is a major loophole in the law, allowing child marriages to continue, often subjecting the married child to years of marital rape.
Iqbal Detho, a child rights activist, said that in South Asian countries, especially Pakistan, India and Bangladesh, the leading cause of death for young girls between the ages of 15 and 18 is early pregnancy. “Child brides extremely are at risk for fistulas and anal ruptures,” he said, adding that they give birth to weaker and sicker babies and lose their lives in the process.
Detho said one of the key reasons for poor implementation of laws and policies in the province is a lack of budgetary allocation at district levels. “The law cannot be effectively implemented unless there is sufficient budgetary allocation and strong political will to properly utilise the funds,” he said.
Despite many attempts, Shamim Mumtaz, the chief minister’s adviser on social welfare, could not be reached.
Meanwhile, the spokesperson for the social welfare department referred to a number of cases registered against people involved in child marriages. “Three days ago, Khairpur Mir police have arrested a 30-year-old man who tied the knot with a 10-year-old girl,” he said, adding that the government has already told the authorities concerned to take action against offenders.
“An awareness campaign will be started very soon to mobilise people about the law,” he said.
SSP Faizullah Korejo, who is the focal police official dealing with the issue, said, “We have registered around 51 cases against people involved in child marriages.” He said under the Act, the police have been authorized to take action without waiting for the permission of the higher authorities or court.