Girls Not Brides

(Umair Yaqoob, Karachi)

It is estimated that 21% of girls in Pakistan are married before the age of 18. Child marriage in Pakistan is connected with tradition, culture, and customary practices.It leads to social isolation, and robs the educational opportunities from a girl. A girl has a complete right to live her life fully, and should not be forced into early marriage

According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), up to three per cent of girls are married in Pakistan before the age of 15 years and 21 per cent are married before they turn 18. You don’t need to be a scientist to understand that when such a large number of girls are married in their childhood, it results in high rates of maternal and child mortality and this is one of the key reasons that Pakistan’s Maternal Mortality Ratio (MMR) still stands at 276 per 100,000 live births and Pakistan’s newborn mortality rate is at 55 per 1,000 live births. We all know that Pakistan failed to achieve its Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) targets related to maternal and child health.

Poverty plays a central role in causing and perpetuating early marriage. Poor families often have few resources to support healthy alternatives for girls, such as giving them proper education.

In families with limited resources, child marriage is often seen as a way to provide for a daughter’s future. However, girls who marry young have more chances of remaining poor.

Early marriage thwarts a girl’s chances of acquiring education, endangers her health and cuts short her personal growth and development, participants said.

The risk of death for pregnant girls under the age of 15 is five times higher than for women in their twenties. Taken together, the costs of this practice are too high to be ignored. Societies cannot progress when the common practice of marriage dooms them to a life of poverty.

Marriage is a contract in Islam and the Quran [4:21] refers to marriage as a mithaq, ie, a solemn covenant or agreement between husband and wife, and enjoins that it be put down in writing. Since no agreement can be reached between the parties unless they give their consent to it, marriage can be contracted only with the free consent of the two parties — which makes it clear that such a contract cannot be entered into by children. How a child can be expected to go into a lifelong contract when he or she is not expected to drive and/or vote? Marriage is a lifetime contract and a child who does not even understand what a contract is cannot be expected to choose her or his life partner and based on this fact child marriage cannot be Islamic at all.

Fashion aficionados at this year’s Pakistan bridal week were surprised to see a little girl walk the ramp in school uniform after several models strutted at the Hum Bridal Couture Week 2017 in Lahore.

People stopped and stared for a long time as the girl emerged wearing a school uniform embellished with bridal motifs. This little girl symbolized all the child brides, highlighting the problem of child marriages which remains a grave issue in Pakistan.

This controversial dress worn by the child as the show stopper was developed by Ali Xeeshan, a renowned Pakistani dress designer, in collaboration with the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women).

The campaign stresses on the fact that little girls should be in school wearing uniforms not wedding dresses and aims to end child marriages by raising public awareness.

“This symbol, the bridal uniform was used to question the unfortunate nature of many marriages that should not be a cause of celebration for the brides, or even the nation as a whole. The horrible trade-off that takes place when a child is deprived of her right to an education, and instead is being dressed to be someone’s wife, is what this campaign targets” reads the statement by UN Women.

With this startling campaign, UN Women aims to make people aware of the issue of child marriages in Pakistan, its life-long implications and preventive measures to address it and help the potential and present victims.

The campaign was further launched through a website and on social media after the live showcase of the bridal uniform to evoke emotions within people to take action. A donation fund has also been set up on the website and funds will directly go to the Kashf Foundation.

Pakistan’s Child Marriage Restraint Act (CMRA) sets the legal age of marriage to be 16 for women and 18 for men. However, an estimated 20 per cent of women are married off before the age of 18 and 3 per cent overall do not even cross the age of 15 before they get married, according to UNICEF.
“It’s astounding how women aren’t allowed to drive or vote before the age of 18 and at the same time, they’re forced into this lifelong commitment way before they reach that age” said Jamshed Kazi, Country Representative for UN Women Pakistan.

In May 2017, the National Assembly rejected the draft Child Marriage Restraint Act that would have increased the legal age for marriage from 16 to 18 nationwide.

Now, the Child Marriage Restraint Act (Amendment) to raise the legal age of marriage from 16 to 18 will be voted upon by the Senate which is why the campaigners are urging people to sign the petition to generate greater momentum of public support for its passage both at the Senate and eventually at the National Assembly too. So far, 1600 people have signed the petition which is striving for 10000 pledges.

As part of a collaboration with UN Women Pakistan, Xeeshan tried to highlight the sad reality of child marriages in the country. The girl on the ramp “appeared wearing a school uniform embellished with bridal motifs; symbolizing the unfortunate trade-off when a child is deprived of her right to an education, and is instead married, ” the UN agency tweeted. UNWP has started a powerful campaign #BridalUniform asking people to sign a petition that “could turn this conversation into a topic of discussion in the Parliament.”

It’s 2017, and, still, the problem of child marriage is a predominant problem around the world. Not just in developing or underdeveloped country, it is a social practice that is still popular in developed nations as well. So, to draw attention to the problem that causes a serious threat to girl’s world, The United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women) are working closely to obliterate the evil practice.

Through this unusual campaign, UN Women aims to make people aware of the issue of child marriages in Pakistan, their life-long implications and how to take preventive action in order to address it and help the potential and present victims. According to UN Women, more than 20 per cent of Pakistani women are married off before the age of 18 and 3 per cent overall do not even cross the age of 15 before they get married.

The donation received from the campaign will directly go Kashf Foundation, an NGO that works to fight child marriages and rescue its victims. The Bridal Uniform’s website further added that a part of the proceeds from Ali Xeeshan’s collection was donated to Pirbhat Women’s Development Society and Sujag Sansar which are organizations striving to end violence against women and working against early child marriages in Pakistan.

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16 Jul, 2019 Views: 285

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