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Child Marriage Restraint Act Is A Huge Step Forward. But Without Implementation And Police Reforms, It’s Useless

Maria Ali in this article child marriage act is helpless without proper implementation by the police. She argues that the forced conversions of minor Hindu and Christian girls is also a matter of human rights, not religion.

A photo of a Sindhi minor (underage) girl who was forced to marry a man of her father’s age is circulating on the media. The good news is that she is in safe hands now. Police arrested the man who married her in exchange for an amount of Rs 250,000 that this girl’s father needed in order to pay off his debt.

The girl was sold by her own father. Not only is he the culprit, the police are equally to be blamed in this case. Although the marriage was reported by some human rights activists to the police, the police let the man take Gurya (nickname) home with him after ‘Nikaah’, where she was raped four times before the man and Gurya were taken into custody.

After the women rights activists intervened, Gurya was sent for a medical check-up which confirmed that she had been raped. The court has now ordered Gurya to be sent to a safe house (Darul Amaan) and not be handed back to her family who had sold her.

This didn’t end here. Another case of 15-year-old Zahida has just surfaced. She was bought and married off to a 50-year-old man named Mahmood. No statement has yet been issued by the police in this case.

Pakistan ranks the sixth highest in underage child brides in the world. The highest number of child marriages are reported in the rural areas. In 2014 the Sindh Assembly unanimously passed the Sindh Child Marriage Restraint Act which declared child marriage as a punishable offence and set the minimum age of marriage to 18 years. It was turned down by the National Assembly, but was passed later on.

Recently, a similar bill proposed by Ramesh Kumar of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) faced strong resistance and opposition from his own party members, some of them members of the cabinet even. The bill however was passed despite PTI’s abstinence.

The factors that lead to such incidents should be taken into account, pointed out and dealt with, alongside the implementation of Child Marriage Restraint Act. In Sindh alone, many underage girls are still forced into marriages and marital rape takes place because the police turn a blind eye to the cases that are reported. The police are either bribed or influenced by the influential people who buy young girls into marriage.

Poverty is the biggest culprit. The girls are literally sold to men because their families are needy or have to pay off debts. In some cases the families just cannot bear the expenses of a daughter if she is not earning.

Hindu girls being married to Muslim boys is also a problem as the girls are converted to Islam before Nikaah in order to get the religious sanction for kidnapping and rape. In some cases, these girls are sold or forced into prostitution by their husbands and they never return to their parents.

Another factor that leads to child marriage is unsafe environment for girls. Most parents are ready to throw their daughters in wedlock as they feel they might not be able to protect them for long. Loss of virginity or fear of an illegitimate pregnancy are the taboos associated with this inhumane custom of girl child marriages. Marrying them off gives parents a sense of protection for their daughters, although the fact remains that the girls always remain vulnerable.

Illiteracy and a lack of basic information about human body development and puberty in girls is a factor that leads to higher mortality rates among young girls who get pregnant. Risk of death among teenage childbirth is higher for both mother and child.

Girls in early teens are still going through puberty and their bodies are not yet ready for childbirth. This awareness can only be brought by eliminating illiteracy, especially in rural areas, and highlighting the risks involved through awareness campaigns.

Child marriages and marriages without girls’ consent in this era of enlightenment are a big shame for us as a nation. And this is not any religious issue. It’s a human rights problem that should be dealt with accordingly and strictly. Eliminating poverty, raising minimum wages, demolishing feudal system, free education for deserving children, especially in rural areas, awareness campaigns and enforcement of law are some of the solutions to resolve this child marriage issue.

Last but not the least, police reforms are needed, so that the law may not become a helping tool in the hands of the criminals, rather it must cut their hands off before they reach the future generations of our country.

The good news that brings some hope is that the parliament has just passed a bill to set 18 years as minimum age for marriage, hence banning child marriages. However, the implementation of the law will continue to be a challenge since underage marriages are a norm in many parts of Pakistan.

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