THE Sindh Assembly deserves praise for being the first legislature in the country to have passed a bill prohibiting child marriage. The provincial assembly unanimously passed the Sindh Child Marriage Restraint Bill, 2013, on Monday, which makes it illegal for anyone under 18 to contract marriage, while also penalising parents and others who facilitate child marriage. It is a brave step to pass such a bill, especially in an atmosphere clouded by obscurantism.

It sends a strong message against the deplorable ‘custom’ of child marriage while also reiterating the elected representatives’ right to frame laws, as opposed to unelected bodies such as the Council of Islamic Ideology. It should be recalled that it was the CII which had earlier this year said that laws prohibiting underage marriage were ‘un-Islamic’. The new Sindh law replaces a colonial-era legislation dating back to 1929, and declares child marriage a cognisable, non-bailable offence, punishable with rigorous imprisonment.

However, simply passing a law is just the first step; the only way society’s ills will be addressed and done away with is if these laws are enforced through a proper mechanism. For example, various progressive laws against crimes such as honour killing, sexual harassment and domestic violence have been passed at various levels over the past few years. Yet these crimes continue unabated largely due to lax enforcement. And when regressive customs such as child marriage are so deep-rooted in society, it will take considerable time and effort from both the state and communities to eradicate them.

Lawmakers in the Sindh Assembly rightly pointed out the need to create awareness about the child marriage law. Efforts through the media and at the grass roots need to be made to educate people about the psychological and physical harm child marriages can cause, especially to young girls. Public representatives can play a crucial role in communicating this message to their constituents. And while a complaint can be filed with a judicial magistrate in case the law is broken, perhaps a body can be set up where violations of the law can be reported. Other provinces would do well to follow Sindh’s example.

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