KARACHI: The National Commission on the Rights of the Child (NCRH) and the Sindh Human Rights Commission (SHRC) organized a consultation meeting on “Implementation of the Sindh Restriction on Marriage Law 2013” here at a local hotel.
In her opening remarks, SHRC chairperson, retired judge Majida Razvi, said that child marriage is an important issue, an issue that affects the whole country. Taking the case of a girl’s underage marriage as an example and its various stages and court decisions, she said it shows that the biggest gap here is age. Marriage obligation used to be 21 years for a man and 18 years for a woman. Then there were changes that included the woman being 16 years old or having reached puberty. But puberty for women occurs earlier and marriages therefore occurred earlier.”
She said that following the 18th Amendment, the Sindh Government enacted the Sindh Child Marriage Restraint Act in 2013, which states that a woman should be 18 years of age or older to get married. “Although Sindh has implementation issues, there is also an awareness of the issue as everyone here wants the law to be fully implemented here. But the other provinces do not have this law. In other provinces there are differences in the legal age for marriage. If there had been a uniform law in all provinces of Pakistan, we would see the problems in the [girl’s] Fall wouldn’t have happened,” she said.
NCRH Deputy Chairman Jawadullah Khan claimed that one of the problems in enforcing such laws is the interpretation of Islamic laws. He also pointed out that catastrophes such as floods, earthquakes, wars, etc. repeatedly affected girls and married them early.
DIG Kharal acknowledges that there is no dedicated police unit to deal with child marriage law violations
NCRH member Iqbal Detho said some compromises had been made in the Child Marriage Act to make it easier for the assembly to pass.
“One such compromise was the elimination of the word ‘minor’. A minor has no authority to enter into a contract, so the word would have helped the bill,” he said, urging stakeholders to identify the gaps in the law’s implementation.
Sarah Zaman, an expert on children’s rights, pointed out that when we talk about child marriage, we usually talk about girls.
“We don’t focus on boy marriage,” she said, adding that it’s sad but true that child marriage is being used as a mechanism to deal with disasters.
She also said that child marriage is a social, political and deeply economic issue.
Mehwish Maria, a child protection officer at Unicef, said Sindh has the highest rate of child marriages after Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Referring to a Unicef study, she pointed out that child marriages are widely accepted here.
DIG Sharjeel Kharal said the issue of child marriage is as important to police as murder and robbery.
He also said the police were empowered by law. “Breaking the law is a non-punishable and recognizable offense. And with that comes a responsibility not to abuse the law and to play a role in preventing and deterring violations,” he said, while admitting they didn’t have a dedicated unit within the police force to deal with the issue of child marriage and so on. There is also a lack of female police officers, who are needed to implement the law, especially in rural areas.
Nuzhat Shirin, chair of the Sindh Commission on the Status of Women, said the commission has reviewed many laws related to children’s and women’s rights. “And we have seen that in child marriage cases it is the police who overshadow the transgression. So there is a need to look at the service providers and how they are moving forward with the law,” she said.
dr Shirin Narejo, secretary of the Ministry of Social Affairs, said that there is also a problem of over-legislation and that one does not look beyond the enactment of laws.
MQM MPA Mangla Sharma said things get worse when people see girls being pushed into early marriage and not getting justice even under a law against the practice. “But when you see opposition from everywhere, there’s a breakthrough,” she said, adding that if we can’t obey the law on early marriages, which is all age-related, then so can other things’ age restrictions should disregard good as voting rights.
NCRH member Anis Haroon from Sindh said it was a gross violation of a girl’s rights if she was married before the age of 18 and also gave birth to a child. “The maternal mortality rate and malnutrition are a big challenge here,” she noted, adding that parents often marry their daughters early to secure their future, but it actually makes them more vulnerable.
MPAs Shamim Mumtaz, Kulsoom Chandio, Farhat Soomro and rights activist Zulfiqar Shah also spoke.
Published in Dawn, October 8, 2022