By: Shahid Husain
Karachi: Child marriage is a criminal act, so it needs to be addressed as a crime story too.
This was observed by Bilquis Rehman, general manager information, communication and resource of Health and Nutrition Development Society (HANDS), on Wednesday.
“I feel our journalists don’t think they are accountable when they write on social problems. Since child marriage is a criminal act, it should also be discussed as a crime story. There should be follow-ups to this crime just as street crime is being reported by the media,” she said.
Rehman along with her team recently visited Matiari and Jacobabad in the interior of Sindh, where child marriages are common.
“With the collaboration of local press clubs and journalists hailing from Karachi, we have launched a campaign to combat child marriages in the abovementioned districts where tribal mores are common,” she said.
She said her organisation had been endeavouring to lobby for the eradication of child marriages, and it was heartening to note that the bill had ultimately been passed in the Sindh Assembly.
However, she added, the enforcement of the law would require a concerted campaign by the media, civil society, religious scholars and academia.
“To help evolve an effective strategy in this regard, brainstorming by journalists is necessary,” she said.
“If a person is jumping the traffic light, he is breaking the law. It’s an unlawful act. Similarly, it’s our civic duty to point out if other laws are violated.”
“Justice (retired) Shaiq Usmani helped us in drafting the bill on the eradication of child marriage pro bono and the provincial additional secretary, law, Aslam Sheikh, has said the bill is about to become a law,” Rehman said.
The research conducted by HANDS in rural Jacobabad indicated that the average age of marrying a girl there was 13 to 14 years, and in urban Jacobabad, it was 18 years. Almost the same conditions prevailed in Matiari.
“In certain cases, the child in a rural set-up there is married at 10 to 12 years,” Rehman said.
“Sometimes a father marries her child to an elderly person to get rid of debt burden,” she lamented.
However, education was bringing changes in the mindset of people, she said. “Illiteracy is the main culprit,” Rehman said.
“There are very few girls’ schools in the rural set-up. Parents complain. There should be schools exclusively for girls in rural areas,” she maintained.
“Parents also complain that their children don’t concentrate on studies since they are overburdened. They help out their parents in the fields and in performing household chores,” she said.
“If parents suffer from stress or depression, the most affected are kids and they become disinterested in their studies,” Rehman said.
The Adolescent Girls Empowerment Project, under which research was conducted in Matiari and Jacobabad, was initiated keeping in view safe motherhood. It’s aimed at bringing change in the socio-cultural norms about early marriages of adolescent girls through raising awareness and advocacy.
“Marriage needs to be bracketed with responsibility,” says religious scholar Dr Mohsin Naqvi, who played a vital role in the drafting of bill on eradication of child marriage.