Karachi: Even though Sindh has the highest percentage for maternal and infant mortality in the country, it will lead the battle against it by tabling the child marriages restraint bill in the provincial assembly.
The maternal and infant mortality rates in Pakistan are the sixth highest in the world and early marriages are one of the main contributing factors to this phenomenon besides poor nutrition and no access to healthcare.
This was said by speakers at the launch of the “Real Life Accounts of Early Marriages”, a compilation of in-depth interviews of the victims and part of the Adolescent Girls Project (AGE).The project is being spearheaded by Rutgers-WPF, in collaboration with the provincial women development department, Hands and the Research and Advocacy Fund. Other organisations helping in the project include Shirkat Gah, Action Aid and Aurat Foundation.
Rubina Qaimkhani, the provincial social welfare and women development minister, while speaking on the occasion lamented that the bill could not be passed in the National Assembly by the previous government because of opposition from a religious party which thought that the law “gave too much freedom to children”. “After that we had too little time before the election to reintroduce the bill,” she said.
At that time, the provincial minister was the prime minister’s adviser on human rights and also leading the Human Rights Standing Committee.However, she said, the legislation against child marriages would soon be passed by the provincial assembly. She thanked the opposition lawmakers and civil society for their support.
She was of the view that it was important to work together with all stakeholders and “flying solo” was not a desirable way to bring change in the society.The Sindh Child Marriages Restraint Bill prepared by the provincial department is an updated version of the Child Marriage Restraint Act, 1929, and calls for one to two years imprisonment or a fine of Rs100,000, or both, on anyone solemnising the marriage of a girl below 18 years of age.
Speaking on the occasion, Dr Tabinda Sarosh of Shirkat Gah, one of the authors of the case studies based on qualitative accounts of victims from Jacobabad and Matiari districts, said that there was a need to translate international conventions to which Pakistan was a signatory to the grassroots level and that was what project AGE intended to do.
She said that women were considered as properties of their families and vessels of reproduction.She said that with the tradition of betrothing them even before they were born, discrimination with them began even before they were actually born.
She said that in a number of rural areas marriages increased during the harvest season because a pair of strong young hands earned families more money.Dr Sarosh said that the compilation of interviews ranged from attempted suicide attempts to stories of resistance.
She said that the whole responsibility of the situation did not rest on men’s shoulders since women too were conditioned in the same patriarchal society. However, she said conflicts in various forms between women occurred only over power.
Scholar and intellectual Jami Chandio said Pakistan child marriages were also prevalent in other backward societies of Asia and most of Africa. He said the tradition not only destroyed the lives of young girls, but affected the health of their children and families, besides setting off a devastating cycle for the society.On the occasion, the Rutgers-WPF also presented 10 awards to journalists who had reported on the issue in Sindhi, Urdu and English newspapers.