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With lives at stake against child marriages in Pakistan

Publishing Date: May 8th 2014

Marriages with minors – under 18 – is a violation of the new legislation adopted by Parliament in Sindh province in southern Pakistan. The bill was approved after two years of regular pressure from social movements, despite threats and warnings from religious extremists. Feminist Perspectives talked to one of the women\’s rights activists behind the news.

Child Marriages in Pakistan
About 40 percent of marriages in today’s Pakistan is child marriage, says women’s rights activist Bushra Khaliq , president of the organization “Women in Struggle for Empowerment” in an interview over Skype from Lahore.
The Pakistani Act of 1929 allows marriage for girls at age 16 and boys at 18, but in practice not followed the law. Women’s and human rights organizations have in recent years drawn attention to violations of the law and its consequences. They have debated and spread awareness of the social problems and health risks faced by married off girls, often as young as nine years old. Young girls will be easier victims of domestic violence, maternal and child mortality has increased in the country as the child marriages become more, informs women’s rights activists.
Bushra Khaliq is one of Pakistan’s women’s rights activists who fight for the criminalization of child marriage. Recently she also received the “Benazir Bhutto Shaheed Medal 2014”, from the Chicago International Labour Federation, for his dedication.
– The girls are forced into marriage against their will. But religious fundamentalists who have their own ” Islamic ideological council , “with great political power, says that it is fully in accordance with Sharia law to marry off girls of any age if one completes the marriage until she reaches puberty. This powerful group of support among both the media and politicians say that our call for a ban on child marriage is against the teachings of Islam. We require that both girls and boys should get married after 18 years.
The campaign for the criminalization of child marriage produced results.Parliament in Sindh Province approved a new law that limits marriage at 18, and the punishment for those who commit crimes against the law gets up to three years in prison. A victory that is now celebrated by those who have fought hard to make that happen.

How will the law be implemented, which can apply?
– Both the people involved and their families, but also women\’s rights organizations. Anyone have an obligation to report child marriage. The police are obliged to take notice and act.
Khaliq and activists of the nationwide network that fights for the new law hope more follow Sindh provinces. Together with other activists in their own region are working Khaliq to convince the local parliament in Punjab to address the issue. She participates in television debates, negotiating and courting politicians, ministers and agencies. But opposition from Islamists are real and threatening.
– The Islamic ideology Council reacts strongly and will do anything to stop us. Together with the network for the whole of Pakistan, we believe in our organization to the misogynistic laws permitting polygamy and turn a blind eye to rape within marriage also be changed. This upsets the fundamentalists and they call us for anything, of which the smallest is to be “enemy of Islam”. We have even lobbied political parties and demanded that the Islamists’ advice should be dissolved. Now that we managed to get the majority of Sindh parliament behind our requirement of the law against child marriage, we believe that there is a lot of support from most political parties and legislators in the country.
Khaliq has written a paper on the violations of children\’s rights in the country that will soon be published and was involved in writing the resolution that will soon be presented in Punjab Parliament.

Is Pakistani society ready for the criminalization of child marriage?
– It is different in different parts of the country. From my own observations and contacts with people in different parts of the country, I perceive poverty as the main cause of child marriage. Otherwise, the mothers to their daughters’ early marriage. But pressure from the men in the surroundings are hard to resist. Often, the men agreed with other men and arranges the marriage but the girl or the mother’s knowledge. Many times makes the girls resisted, but they do not act with him. The feudal mentality, which remains strong, fueled by fundamentalists, allow such agreements among men when it comes to children’s marriages.
Khaliq explains that it is not just the poor who do not dare to take a stand when religious leaders say that child marriage is allowed, even if they do not marry early.- I have had discussions with university students who believe that the mullahs are experts, and if they say so, then you should obey.
Is there not some liberal mullahs that goes against these fundamentalists?
– They are so few and they dare not raise your voice. Some of them have been murdered for their statements and others have fled the country.
So how dare you who is a secular woman to raise her voice against these forces?
– It is not easy of course! But we must fight back! I also get threat and risk getting a blasphemy-accusation is always hanging over your head. And you know if the mullahs issuing such an accusation, then sentenced to death and if you’re lucky and sentenced to life imprisonment may be lynched by the mob who often stand outside the court. It has become more and more dangerous to talk about women’s rights in Pakistan. And it has done that civil society organizations join together and fight together.