Govt fails to enact law for prevention of child marriage

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MANSEHRA: With a significant number of child marriage cases, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is still without any legislation to effectively check underage wedlock.

According to government`s Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health Project, which has been launched in 10 of 38 districts of the province since 2021, child brides are the worst victims of physiological traumas and reproductive health issues compared with their counterparts married off in the age of 20 and above.

Its report says that depression, marriage adjustment, anxieties, miscarriages, feeble health and medical issues and iron deficiency are common among child marriage couples, mostly in girls.

`This initiative assesses men-tal and sexual health of adolescents as they reach puberty and startfacingpsychologicalhealthrelated issues through various phenomenon,` says Dr Lubna Safeer, the district head of the programme.

She says that five of 10 female patients taken to health centres with reproductive health and psychological issues are child bridges in Hazara division. `This ratio is slightly higher in rest of the province,` she adds.

Dr Lubna says that government as well as society has not been taking child marriage as a serious issue as such couples, mostly girls, subsequently face physiological and mental health, hygienic and sexual and medical complications.

The initiative currently in progress in Mansehra, Malakand, Swabi, Mardan, Chitral, Lakki Marwat, Dir, Nowshera, Haripur and Dera Ismail Khan since 2021 to do away with child marriages is yet to cover the rest of the province.

Pakistan, which has still been exercising a slightly less than century-old Child Marriage Restrain Act of 1929, stands sixth in countries with the highest child marriage having a ratio ofaround 30 per cent.Following the passage of Eighteenth Amendment in 2010, though legislation falls into the provinces` domain, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan provinces have yet to enact such a law, which can effectively deal with child marriages.

The British-era law determines a girl`s minimum age for her wedding at 16 years, and for aboy18 yearsbutitislenient to deal effectively with contraveners as it punishes the latter with a jailed term of a month in maximum, and a fine not exceeding Rs1,000.

Sindh and Punjab governments have repealed Child Marriage Restraint Act, 1929, and invoked Child Marriage Restraint Act in 2013 and 2015, respectively, to deal with child marriages.

`It is a patriarchal mindset, which is one of the hurdles in centre, KP and Balochistan to legislate on premature matches.

All three have still been exercising aged Child Marriage Restrain Act, 1929,` says Advocate Sharafat A Chaudhry, a legal expert on legislation.

He says that fundamental challenges of patriarchal institutional structures, interpretation of religion, poverty, limited access to education and government unwillingness to enforce birth registration are its major reasons.

The legal expert says that lawmakers from 2014 to 2023 made efforts to get Child Marriage Constrain Act, 1929, amended or repealed or make it consonant with the prevailing world, even Federal Sharia Court had given a green signal to parliament to go ahead, but no to avail.

The National Commission on the Status of Women also made last-ditch efforts in 2023 to get that British-era law amended by National Assembly but it also met with the same past standoff.

The NCSW envisions an amended law marriage age for either sex of 18-year and the Nikkak registrar (cleric) can only solemnise wedlock when a bride and bridegroom can produce their Computerised National Identity Cards.

It seeks punishment clauses amended to adjudicate child marriage cases only in family courts and enhance simple one month imprisonment, and a fine of Rs1,000 in the existing ACT to rigorous imprisonment of three years and not shorter than two years and a fine of Rs200,000 for violators.

Acknowledgement: Published in Dawn News on 15th April 2024.
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