Government should initiate programme that sets goals regarding the abolition of child marriages in the country
The International Day of the Girl Child was observed on October 11 and is an important day that reminds us that Pakistan has a long road ahead of it when it comes to achieving gender equality and a safe society for women and girls. This year, government representatives and civil society in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) came together to observe the day at an event, where speakers acknowledged that while the rest of the world has made some key advances when it comes to the rights of the girl child, in Pakistan, and specifically in K-P, the menace of forced and early marriages remains in vogue. What is needed to deal with this situation is a multi-faceted approach that involves the introduction of legal reforms, a change in cultural norms and medieval practices, and strengthening of girls’ education. Various activists suggested that women and girls should be included in awareness programmes to highlight the importance of educating themselves, and to find solutions to problems foisted on them because of our medieval societal structures.
These are important conversations and must be expanded to include the public at large. Mass campaigns in the media, in neighbourhoods and schools are needed to create awareness about the psychological and physiological consequences of early marriage. What should be initiated at the government level is a programme that sets goals regarding the abolition of child marriages in the country. According to the organisation Girls Not Brides, in Pakistan an estimated 21 per cent of girls are married as minors. Child marriages do not happen in secret. But they still do not dent our collective conscience and among certain sections of society are just another reality of life in Pakistan. In such a situation, it is important to first emphasise the extent of abuse that entails child marriages and the generational impact of such customs. We need campaigns that not only target communities where child marriages are prevalent, but also target the audience that is not directly impacted to create collective awareness. This issue must be prioritised by creating awareness about its adverse human impact.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 16th, 2015.
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