ISLAMABAD: Population growth, which is one of the major issues of Pakistan, can be reduced by one-tenth if child marriages are stopped in the country.

This was stated by Shagufta Bhatti, an expert on population issues, at a consultative session with mediapersons on Tuesday. The session, ‘Promoting legislation, prompting action to end child marriage in Pakistan’ was organised by the Centre for Communication Programmes (CCP) at a local hotel.

Ms Bhatti said reports prepared by the government on child marriages never matched with that of the civil society.

Population experts say Pakistan must incorporate definition of ‘child’, UN convention on early marriages into Constitution

“Pakistan ratified the United Nations Convention on Child Marriages over 25 years ago but could not make its recommendations a part of the Constitution,” she said.

Talking about the logic given by a large number of people that in the past marriages were held in early ages, Ms Bhatti said at that time the economy was dependent on agriculture and children used to join their parents in agricultural work as they did not need to find jobs before getting married.

“But because of urbanisation, parents now have to ensure that their children get education and become financially self reliant before getting married.”

Child marriage is also one of the reasons for the existing maternal and infant mortality rate, which are 276/100,000 live births and 74/1,000 live births, respectively, she said.

The definition of a child (physically) is not mentioned in the Constitution which obstructs any effort to stop child marriages or even get it recognised as an issue in Pakistan.

She said the minimum legal age of marriage for boys in the country was 18 years and for girls 16 years, which was again discriminatory in nature.

Senior journalist Mubashir Zaidi said it was the responsibility of the media to highlight the child marriage issue and create awareness among the citizens about its consequences on the health of the girls.

Dr Aadil Butt of the CCP said the United States was the only country which had not ratified the UN convention on child marriages.

“All other countries have ratified the convention and some of them have laws under which as soon as they ratify the convention it becomes a part of their constitution. Pakistan also needs to incorporate the convention in the constitution,” he said.

“We want to make child marriages a mainstream issue rather than the issue of only non-governmental organisations because it is directly related with the development of the country and the health of the citizens,” he said.

Published in Dawn, November 22nd, 2017