KARACHI: Approximately half of Pakistani women are married before 18 years of age and nine per cent of girls begin childbearing between 15-19 years, Shirkat Gah – a non-governmental organisation -revealed on Thursday.
The organisation states that 64.6 per cent of women in Pakistan are illiterate and 74 per cent are deprived of being a part of the formal economy, while female life expectancy is 66.1 per cent. It was also said that the average number of children a woman bears in her lifetime is 4.1, while the number of mothers dying due to complications during pregnancy is 276 per 100,000 live births.
The data was shared during a programme, titled ‘Continuing the Momentum for a Healthier Tomorrow’, in which print, electronic and radio media persons participated.
The participants highlighted that infant and maternal mortality rate was the highest in Pakistan compared to other South Asian countries, adding that it was mainly because of the child marriage custom in the society. The laws protecting women rights are not being implemented in letter and spirit, they lamented.
“Child marriage is a crime,” said Dr Tabinda Sarosh of the Shirkat Gah. “It is necessary to implement laws related to women rights for a healthier and prosperous society.” She said that the laws for women rights, including the ones against domestic violence and sexual harassment, exist but are not implemented.
“It’s the duty of the government to create an enabling environment for women within a framework based on equality so that they can access and exercise their rights fully,” she demanded.
The Shirkat Gah’s study shows that adolescents suffered due to the lack of youth friendly services for reproductive health issues. The organisation’s research, based on Matiari and Jacobabad, found that the average age of marriage for girls was between 12 to 14 years.
Imran Shirvanee, a media person, said that people, especially in rural and remote areas, need to understand the repercussions of early marriages. “It is not a religious issue, but a social problem,” he added. “Early marriage is a crime, but the government has not taken concrete measures to address it as yet.”
He said that eradicating the custom of child marriages can lead to better health of mother and child. It will further help recognise their human rights, education rights, matrimonial rights. “It should be addressed with political maturity,” he concluded.
Dr Sarosh said that 18 years of age limit should be fixed for marriage for men and women. Shirvanee was of the view that setting the age limit at 21, however, could make a real difference in a society like Pakistan.
“The role of the media in eradicating such practices is pivotal but it needs to first develop proper understanding of the issue,” suggested Qazi Asif, a participant. He highlighted the need for women empowerment, adding that women in different set ups, including the provincial and national assemblies, have been playing their due role.
“It is a social dilemma,” said Mujahid Shah, another participant. “Being a husband or a wife is a complete responsibility as it needs physical and mental maturity.”
The participants believed that some norms and values in the society had created hindrances, stressing that awareness through media could also bring a change.
It was highlighted that poverty was one of the key determinants of the utilisation of public health facilities and is also closely related to the well-being of women in terms of nutrition and food security. “Marginalised women belonging to poor class, rural areas, minority groups, migrants, internally displaced and adolescent age group remain at the lowest rung of power dynamics in the society,” said Dr Sarosh.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 31st, 2013.