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UN Under-Secretary General and UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka speaks at the event in Thar.—Dawn
UN Under-Secretary General and UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka speaks at the event in Thar.—Dawn

MITHI: Making one of Pakistan’s most impoverished districts the first stop of her first official visit to the country, United Nations Under-Secretary General and UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka on Wednesday called upon the entire community to help end child marriages and voice their commitment to change the lives of girls and young women for the better.

“Becoming a ‘zero child-marriage’ village will require everyone’s efforts. Girls and young women must have the means and information to make their own decisions. They need to know that they are not property. They have both rights and a voice to say no ,” Ms Mlambo-Ngcuka said in her dialogue with over 300 residents, notables of the area, government officials, civil society representatives and members of the local media.

They gathered at the Shaheed Benazir Bhutto Cultural Complex in the Tharparkar district capital, Mithi, at an event to mark the “16 Days of Activism Against Gender-based Violence Campaign”.

“When the whole nation commits to tackling deep-rooted traditions like child marriage head-on, millions of girls stand to benefit. This is also a task for men who can accelerate the progress by saying simply ‘I will not marry a child’,” the executive director said.

Calling on religious and social leaders to use their authority to take a stance against violence and protect the rights of girls, the executive director received pledges from clerics, registrars and local politicians to make Thar a ‘zero child-marriage’ region and set an example for others to follow.

It is estimated that there are 650 million women and girls in the world today who were married before age 18.

At the event, the UN official encouraged families and the community to be more vigilant to prevent and report cases of underage marriage.

She also urged the religious leaders, who solemnise marriages, to confirm if the bride and groom were of legal age, stressing the importance of birth certificates and national identity cards for verification of age.

“The decision to marry should be a freely made, informed decision that is taken without fear, coercion, or undue pressure,” said the executive director. “By speaking out against child marriage, religious and traditional leaders can help to change the social and cultural norms that perpetuate the practice even when there are laws in place to prevent it.”

Sindh Women Development Minister Syeda Shehla Raza said that early child marriage was among the contributing factors to both relatively high rate of mother and child mortality in Tharparkar, which needed urgent attention through multipronged interventions.

She said the Sindh government was doing everything possible to ensure implementation of laws related to women’s health and the social, political and economic empowerment of women.

However, Ms Raza said that more public awareness and oversight by relevant authorities were needed to ensure adherence to the law.

She thanked Ms Mlambo-Ngcuka for beginning her visit from Tharparkar.

Others who also spoke on the occasion included Nuzhat Shirin, chair of the Sindh Commission on the Status of Women; Jamshed Kazi, UN’s women country director; Dr Allah Nawaz Samoo, CEO of the Thardeep Rural Development Programme and PPP MNA Dr Mahesh Kumar Malani.

Dr Malani, Thar SSP Imran Qureshi and others presented traditional gifts to the guests.

Published in Dawn, December 6th, 2018