KARACHI: Although the Sindhi media is proactive in reporting the issues of child marriages and gender discrimination topics, the other mainstream mediums don’t make these subjects part of their agenda setting.
These views were shared by speakers and participants at the media training session on The Sindh Child Marriages Restraint Act, 2013, at Regent Plaza on Wednesday.
Social development consultant, Bilquis Rehman, said that although the role of the regional press is commendable, there is a lot to be done by media organisations to ensure that child marriage act is implemented in its entirety.
According to the Sindh Child Marriage Restraint Act 2013, the minimum age of the bride and groom should be 18 years. “The minimum age in Punjab remains 16 years which is a huge paradox,” she said, adding that there was always the possibility of people moving to Punjab and marrying young as it was acceptable under the law.
Rehman was of the opinion that curbing child marriages was essential to reduce maternal mortality rates. “Almost 30 per cent of all marriages in Pakistan are child marriages.
On average, 60 per cent of girls aged between 15 and 19 years are already bearing a child,” she explained.
Commenting on the legal aspects of the act, lawyer Maliha Lari said that it was necessary to understand that the concept of nikah and rukhsati should be kept separate.
“Under Islamic law, nikah defines a marriage while rukhsati is a separate issue. Therefore, the age should be determined at the time of nikah only,” she emphasised.
Lari explained that the Sindh Child Marriage Restraint Act was a continuation of clauses that were already part of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC).
“These are not implemented due to social biases, which is why we see other specialised laws on honour killings and women trafficking being passed later.” Lari also highlighted the law on rape as part of Section 375 of PPC.
According to her, the law states that if a man had sexual intercourse with a 16-year-old girl, even if they were married and the girl had consented, it qualifies as rape.
“In such cases, birth registrations can aid a great deal. Therefore, CNIC and birth registrations should be ensured,” she said.
Speaking on the need to highlight stories based on issues of gender discrimination and suppression, Dr Riaz Sheikh from Szabist said that media practitioners have to play their part.
Giving reference from the time of Ziaul Haq when ordinances against women were introduced, he said that the decline of the society started at that time.
“Journalists at the time too were willing to challenge it but due to oppression by the government and the self interest of media owners, these issues were compromised,” he said, adding that it is the compromise of that time that graver consequences of violence against women have to be dealt with today.