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‘Key to implementation of laws lies in societal awareness’

By: Zeeshan Azmat

Karachi: Changes in laws and their implementation are always brought about when the society is aware of them and people are willing to stand up for their rights, be it the vulnerable sections of the society or minority communities.

This was said by speakers including members of the judiciary and rights activists at a seminar “Without Consent: Forced Marriages; Laws, Society and Culture” jointly organised on Monday by the Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (PILER), Legal Rights Forum and Dastagir Legal Aid Centre.

For example, the Sindh Child Marriage Restraint Act 2013 had been enacted but people were still did not know about it, said Nadeem Khan, a judge of the customs court in Karachi.

He said most of the time, a law was available but wasn’t implemented and this was why blatant misuse was also rampant in Pakistan.

“In the Pakistani society, laws are used against people who are willing to stand up for their rights. If a girl and a boy want to marry, they can go to the court and do so. But then the girl’s family goes on to register a case of kidnapping against the groom,” he said.

“However, it has always been the reactions of the society which have paved the way for the introduction of new laws or amendments in existing ones. Extensive work has been done in the marriage laws and procedures, such as the Nikkahnama. The second page of the marriage contract protects all the rights of women but in practice it is often ignore,” he said.

The customs judge said strict implementation of marriage laws had begun in Punjab, and if anybody was found violating the clauses in the second page, he could end up in jail.

The problem was, he said, since most of the people did not know about their rights they did not approach the court to seek justice. “We even have separate consumers’ courts and if anyone eats at any restaurant and the food has damaged their health, he or she can sue the business,” he said.

Also speaking on the occasion, the president of Karachi Bar Association, Naeem Qureshi, said free legal aid was essential for members of a civilised society. He said thousands of people in Pakistan were behind bars only because they could not afford legal representation.

He said forced marriages were an integral part of the Bradari system, where people sealed marital relations to keep assets in the family. “Parents don’t want girls to marry the man of their choice because they would end up losing a portion of their property,” he said.

Assistant Public Prosecutor Naeem Arain explained that various provisions of the child marriage restraint law were already present in the law enacted in 1929 by the British.

Citing figures from a Unicef report, he said more than 50 percent girls in Pakistan were married off without their consent.

Shujauddin Qureshi of Piler pointed out that there was yet no legislation about forced marriages.

Amrat Kumar, a coordinator at Dastageer Legal Aid Centre, said his organisation provided free legal aid to people in 13 districts of Pakistan.

The News