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Child marriage: time to break the traditions

* Short-filmmaking competition at LCWU on early marriages reveals stereotype gender roles developed from practices like watta satta, vani, vulver

LAHORE: Pakistan is stuck in the quagmire of traditions, which are mainly related to marriage and the family.

This was the consensus of the speakers who made intermittent speeches during a short-filmmaking competition on early-age marriages, jointly organised by the Plan International Pakistan, an NGO, and the Lahore College for Women University’s (LCWU) Mass Communication Department on Monday.

The speakers said that from the practice of child marriages, stereotype gender roles had developed, which had tied women to homes and left them totally dependent on men.

They said the poverty was one of the main causes of child marriage and the girls were often taken as an economic burden on the family and married off as soon as possible.

They also talked about a number of traditional practices that resulted in child marriage; watta satta or exchange marriage a common among them in the rural communities of south Punjab. The practice involves the mutual exchange of daughters between two families, with each girl being swapped for the purpose of marrying a son in the recipient family.

The speakers said that other traditional practices included vani or swara, which involved the offering of a girl to a family in appeasement or compensation for a wrongdoing, like settling a blood feud. Vulver, the sale of a girl to a husband, is another practice that could result in child marriage.

They said that protection of honour was an important notion in the Pakistani culture and was another cause of child marriages. They said that protecting a young girl once she attains puberty was an important task for parents, who often viewed marriage as the most effective way of shielding their daughters from undesirable relationships out of wedlock. They said that lack of awareness regarding the negative impacts of child marriages, on both boys and girls, and the lack of effective implementation of legislation also helped perpetuate the practice.

It may be possible to assert that once parents were aware of the harm that could be caused by marrying a child too early, they would cease to look favourably upon the practice, they said, adding that the same could be argued where legislation, with sufficiently onerous penalties, was effectively implemented.

They opined that the threat of imprisonment or a significant fine might be considered a good reason for delaying a child’s marriage, particularly if a fine would represent a great financial burden to the offender.

The speakers said that gender discrimination was an overarching issue that contributed to the practice of child marriage. In a patriarchal society, such as Pakistan’s, women observed a domestic role (as compared to the working role of the husband) and, given that early marriages bind girls to their homes and normally force them to give up her education, child marriage allows for this disparity to be perpetuated, they said.

Adviser to the Punjab chief minister Zakia Shahnawaz, Punjab Information Secretary Mohiuddin Wani, Usman Peerzada, Asghar Nadeem Sayed and LCWU VC Dr Sabiha Mansoor were prominent among the speakers.

Daily Time