Rutgers-WPF hosts event to celebrate inspirational journey of adolescent girls
stepping up to end misguided practice of early marriages in country’s rural centres
Karachi: Addressing the pressing social issue that are child marriages, a Dutch NGO, Rutgers-WPF, honoured adolescent girls, called Kirans (rays of hope), in its ‘She Leads’ conference to celebrate their successful campaigns in their respective villages.
With help from partner organisations, the event held at a local hotel comprised various sessions to discuss the social and legal aspects of child marriages in Pakistan.
“A law against early marriages exists but its implementation requires help at all levels, be it awareness among the people or the police for registering cases and pursuing investigations in the field,” remarked Aftab Awan of Rutgers-WPF while talking to The News.
He said the event was held to celebrate the successful campaigns of young girls who had been trained in leadership and apprise them of more creative ways to continue with their work. Awan stressed the role of civil society in raising awareness about the cause.
He said awareness of the relevant rights and laws was the key that would eventually help stem this dangerous custom in the Pakistani society. However, he pointed out, the issue must be tackled with due reference to poverty since the custom was more prevalent in lower-income strata of the society.
A short documentary was displayed at the event highlighting the work done so far by the Rutgers-WPF and its local partners, with stories of adolescent girls who shared their experiences when families agreed to wed them off to ease the burden of dowry.
One of the Kirans, Sidra Noonari, told The News about her experience campaigning against child marriages in her native village.
“When a girl is married off early, it not only affects her physically but mentally too. The girl has not consented to the marriage or the responsibilities it heaps on her and she feels trapped. So the matter of letting a girl come of age before her marriage is graver since when she is married off, the consent to what happens to her is taken away and she has no control over her own life. I believe education plays a vital role in this regard because even we were told that boys and girls are created equal, we don’t see it practically.”
Hailing from Sanghar district, a rights activist Raja Mohsin Ali Solangi spoke fiercely about how his efforts had brought change in his locality. “It is customary to marry off girls when they reach puberty and not doing so is deemed something taboo for the family. But despite all odds, we were able to change the mindset. In a place where educating girls is considered a sin, this initiative was like gifting a voice to the voiceless,” he said.
Highlighting the role of media in this regard, Hamid Bhutto, a journalist who has been associated with different TV and radio channels , lamented that although government organisations and NGOs engaged in discussions to curb early marriages, very few are able to walk the talk. He said that though many organisations had invested a lot in the cause they were not able to move the process and curb the dangerous custom.
“Even now, there are hundreds of girls who have been wedded off without consent and before an age where they can understand what is happening to them. But, it seems we all have taken an oath of silence. The news seldom reaches media houses because the feudal lords twist the cases and make ‘honour’ the epicentre of the news,” he said.
Another Kiran, Tabinda hailing from Jhol tehsil in Sanghar, was proud that she was able to save her cousin from being married off early.
“My Mamoo had betrothed his elder daughter when she was very young and had the same plans for the younger one. When the elder one was getting married, we didn’t know about the law but when it was the younger one’s turn, we told him that he could be arrested and, fortunately, he changed his mind. My cousin was barely 12 and she was being wedded off to a man who was above 40 years. I am very happy I was able to save her or else she too would have fallen prey to this condemnable practice.”