By FAIZA ILYAS
KARACHI: Production of the computerised national identity card (CNIC) and birth registration certificate at the time of marriage be made mandatory to effectively implement the law against underage marriage, said speakers at a media training and consultation session held at a local hotel on Wednesday.
They also underlined the need to bring about uniformity in the legal age for marriage across the country to prevent child marriages. The programme was organised by DevCon, a non-governmental organisation for rural development, to discuss the Sindh Child Marriage Restraint Act, 2013.
Giving a presentation on child marriage, Bilquis Rehman, a social development consultant, said it was a human rights as well as a development issue that must not be looked at in isolation as it was interlinked to multiple sectors.
“High school dropouts and increasing number of maternal deaths are intrinsically linked to early marriages that at times take place to exchange girls for money or to settle debts,” she said, adding that factors such as tribal practices, misconceptions about religion, low girl enrolment in schools and poverty contributed to the trend of early marriage.
Underage marriage, she said, also led to domestic violence, sexual and physical abuse, and could cause serious complications in pregnancy and childbirth and increase the risk of HIV/Aids and hepatitis infections.
Sharing some statistics, she said half of Pakistani women were married at the age of about 19 years while 13 per cent and 40pc women got married by the age of 15 and 18.2, respectively. “Eighteen per cent of Pakistani women have had their first birth by 18 years while nine per cent begun childbearing between 15 and 19 years,” she said.
Around 10 million girls, she said, were robbed of their childhood globally due to early marriage every year. The issue was more common in the developing world, where it was said that one in seven girls was married before her 15th birthday and some child brides were as young as eight or nine.
Ms Rehman lauded the Sindh lawmakers for passing the child marriage restraint act (that has raised the minimum age for marriage from 16 to 18 years, put fine and punishment on offenders and made underage marriage a cognizable offence) and said lawmakers in Punjab had strongly opposed such a piece of legislation and the legal age set for marriage there was still 16 years (Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa have the same minimum age for marriage).
In reply to a question, she said that few cases had been registered under the act so far.
Speaking about the various laws related to women, Maliha Zia, representing the Aurat Foundation, said that civil society had been campaigning against the application of the Qisas (retribution) and Diyyat (blood money) provisions of the Pakistan Penal Code in cases of honour killing as often such cases involved killings by close relatives, who were forced to make a compromise with the offender.
“Furthermore, a murder should be treated as a crime against the state and not against an individual,” she said.
In her opinion, the recently passed anti-rape law in a way violated the fundamental rights given in the constitution as the law prevented the media from highlighting rape cases. For a man to have intercourse with a 16-year-old with or without her consent was a rape under the law, she said, pointing out that though marriage at the age of 17 carried a fine and punishment, the nikah would remain valid under the law.
On the domestic violence act 2013, she said the Sindh government was still to make a commission at the provincial level, establish committees at the district level and depute inquiry officers under the law.
Human rights activist Iqbal Detho emphasised the need to change the mindset of the people to enforce the law on early marriage. “The government has to set up institutions required to be established under the law to provide protection to children and women,” he said.
Mubashir Soomro from DevCon and Dr Riaz Shaikh from the Szabist also spoke.