KP’s civil society calls for an urgent action to end child marriages

child marriages

PESHAWAR: The Civil Society of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa released a Charter of Demands (CoD) for the Government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) calling for an urgent action to end child marriages in the province. The Charter of Demands has been endorsed by key civil society organizations and networks including End Violence Against Women and Girls (EVAWG) Alliance (KP), Provincial Alliance to End Child Marriages, Pakhtunkhwa Civil Society Network (PCSN), National Action Coordination Group, Pakistani Men Against Rape-KP Chapter, Fight Against Dowry Advocacy Network (FADAN)-KP, TransAction (Provincial Alliance of Transgender Community), Partners in Prevention and Response (P4PR), Members Young Omang Network, Faith Leaders for Rights and Ujjala Network.

The Charter of Demands was endorsed during a round table discussion on “Child Marriage Restraint Bill” organized by UN Women in collaboration with EVAW/G Alliance (KP) here on Thursday in Peshawar.

The KP’s civil society stressed that gender equality is critical to social justice, fairness and equity and that marriage below 18 years of age is a grave violation of fundamental human rights. According to UNICEF, 21 percent of Pakistani girls are married by the age of 18, and 3 percent before 15, and Pakistan has the sixth highest number of child brides in the world (1.9 million). According to Health and Demographic Survey 2017-2018, among the household population of Pakistan 50% of women have no education compared with 34% of men, and 22.3 percent women cited child and early marriages as one of the reason of discontinuation of their education. Child marriage has serious repercussions on the health, education and well-being of the girl and also impacts her family, community and the society at large.

Furthermore, members of civil society expressed their concern that while the 1973 Constitution of Pakistan guarantees equal rights for men and women and prohibits discrimination based on sex, the legal age of marriage for girls is still 16 in Pakistan as compared to 18 for boys, except Sindh where it is 18 for both. They also highlighted that since the Pakistan Majority Act 1975 and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Child Protection and Welfare Act 2010 state that any person below 18 years of age will be considered as a child, therefore, any marriage below 18 should be considered child marriage and legally not allowed.

Civil society organizations unanimously adopted the Charter of Demands to urge the government and other stakeholders to take strong, effective and concerted actions for ending child, early and forced marriage and all harmful customary practices, and to develop, enact and implement legislation raising the minimum age of marriage to 18 for both boys and girls. “We call for effective legal and institutional mechanisms to monitor implementation of the laws and dispense justice, and ask authorities to review and amend discriminatory provisions concerning child rights in all laws and policies, including family laws,” the CoD says. Speaking at the occasion, Mr. Qamar Naseem, Coordinator of the Provincial Alliance to End Early, Child and Forced Marriages KP, said: “The Government must ensure that every girl affected by child marriage has access to appropriate recourse and services including medical care, reproductive health information and services, education, counselling, legal aid, and shelter.” The government must provide adolescent girls and boys access to quality primary and secondary education by creating an enabling environment and ensuring the provision of basic educational facilities as one of the key strategies for delaying early age marriage, he said.”

Mr. Fida Jan, Co-Chair of the EVAW/G Alliance (KP), demanded the government to strengthen collaborations between government and civil society for systemic and sustainable change in an effective manner so that girls and women are valued in our society, enabling them to avail the same opportunities and enjoy the same rights as boys and men.

Mr. Imran Takkar, a child rights expert from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, said: “All stakeholders must work together to collect and analyse adequate and improved data, i.e. sex-disaggregated data, to serve as an evidence base for enhancing policies and programmes and make it open source and publicly available.”

Molana Tayab Qureshi, a renowned religious leader, said: “All of us need to take collaborative and concerted action to end these practices, including governments, faith groups, traditional leaders, non-governmental organizations, civil society groups, young people, people affected by these practices, international organizations and media.”

Ms. Fatima Nazish, a young journalist, remarked: “We must invest in all girls, so they have the knowledge, education, skills, and self-confidence to take control of their lives and claim their rights. There is a need for improving meaningful youth engagement in leadership and decision-making to promote participation of girls and boys in decisions that affect them.”

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