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Legal rights of women termed essential for development

LARKANA: Discussing the causes and consequences of child marriages, a daylong workshop was organised by DevCon, an association for rural development, in collaboration with Save the Children, here on Monday. Special attention was given to existing laws and the need for them to be implemented in letter and spirit.

The keynote speaker, Iqbal Ahmed Detho, provincial manager advocacy and campaigns at Save the Children, said factors including customs and traditions, patriarchal norms and stereotypes, illiteracy, poverty, family honour and lack of access to quality education contributed towards this trend. Focusing on the harmful practice of early marriages, Mr Detho claimed it was not only a human right violation but also raised serious social and medical concerns. Almost 33 per cent of women died due to complications related to it. The misinterpretation of religion and tradition could not be invoked as justifications in this matter, he added.

He also stressed the need for the Sindh government to notify the provincial commission on the status of women, and protection committees at district level under section 17 of The Domestic Violence (Prevention and Protection) Bill, 2013.

Participants in the workshop shared many problems related to early marriages, and the physical, moral, economic and psychological impact these tended to have, especially among girls. Early marriages, they believed, could lead to emotional complications too and compromised their overall well-being. Almost one-third of underage marriages contributed towards a rise in maternal and infant mortality, it was shared.

They also emphasised the necessity of the implementation of the Child Marriages Restraint Act, 2013. This law set the minimum age for marriage as 18 and not adhering to it was considered a cognizable offence.

However, challenges with implementation still remained. Police officials who registered FIRs as well as those who were part of the investigation in such cases must know the contents of the law, they said.

Implementation of the law was impossible without the support of members of civil society who must realise the gravity of the issue and play a role in imparting awareness. Proper birth registration, poverty alleviation, providing social protection, economic empowerment of women and reforms in the nikahnama are the need of hour to curb the menace of underage marriages. Advocacy plans should be developed at all levels of society — government, civil and community.

Mubashir Soomro from DevCon shed light on how society had changed and the government and civil society must realise the magnitude of the issue plaguing it and play their due role in protecting women against any discrimination. The bias against women in society must be eliminated and the justice system needs to address their issues, which was only possible through an attitude and behavioural change.