LAHORE: A project has been launched to weed out the scourge of child marriage from three districts of south Punjab.

Rahnuma FPAP and Plan International have collaborated on the project.

MNA Jamshed Ahmad Dasti (himself from south Punjab), Punjab Auqaf Minister Atta Mohammad Manika, MPAs Farah Manzoor Rind, Farzana Mir, Nasrullah Zarai (Balochistan) and Ziaullah Bangash (KP) were present at the launch on Tuesday.

Begum Zakiya Shahnawaz, the minister for population welfare in Punjab, who was also the chief guest, assured full support for bringing about reforms in legislation related to child marriage.

It was brought to light that Sindh had already introduced a draft bill in its assembly, which denounced the Child Marriage Restraint Act 1929 because it was outdated and did not give enough security to children. In their new draft bill, they had also pushed for the current penalty of one-month prison (and a fine of Rs1,000) up to three years of non-bailable punishment.

Plan International Director Rasheed Javed said the child involved, especially a girl who is more vulnerable, suffered various problems such as survival, bad health, a cut-off from education etc. In terms of numbers, girls were more affected as one in every three girls was married before the age of 18 on an average in developing countries, he said.

The rate of these child marriages was about 46pc in South Asia, with a surprisingly lower (25pc) in Pakistan. India and Bangladesh stood at 45pc and 66pc, respectively. More than 60 million girls around the world were married under the age of 18 last year and 42pc of them were from Pakistan, he said.

The practice of child girl’s marriage was more common in the rural areas compared to the urban areas. Factors such as poverty, protection of girls, family honour and the provision of stability during unstable social periods were significant in determining a girl’s chance of becoming married at an early age, he said.

In Pakistan, he said, child marriages were prohibited under the Child Marriages Restraint Act of 1929. The law emphasised that the minimum age of marriage was 16 years for girls and 18 years for boys. It barred the police from directly intervening in the underage marriages, implying that Sharia law was to be consulted, he said.

“What’s worse is that a conviction under this law does not serve to nullify the marriage. Poorly-enforced laws on minimum marriage age and inefficient mechanism for maintaining records of birth registration makes it difficult to determine the correct age of children at the time of marriage.”

He said child marriages should be prohibited and the legal age of marriage should be raised from 16 to 18 years. Pakistan was signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Children, which barred child marriage below the age of 18, he said. He said the media must also play a positive role in creating awareness among the masses.

Zakia Shahnawaz said Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif was focused on the development of the youth and women. The Punjab government, she said, was making efforts to bring about legislative reforms in the assembly. She briefed the audience on a bill which, she said, proposed a minimum age for girl marriage as 18. The possession of the CNIC was being recommended as mandatory at the time of marriage, she said.

MNA Jamshed Dasti also supported the implementation of the project while Atta Manika said many cases went unreported and the actual numbers could be higher than those quoted.