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LAHORE: Both economic and human costs of child marriages are significant and need to be addressed. Around the world child brides are on average less educated, poorer and more prone to sexual violence than the women who marry later in life.

In this context, parliamentarians, journalists and civil society members unanimously agreed at a consultative meeting organised on Wednesday at a local hotel by the UN Women that the age of girls for marriage should be at least 18 years by law, and an amendment should be made in the Child Marriage Restraint Act to this effect.

Under this law, the marriageable age for boys is 18 years, but for girls it is 16 years.

The main discussion revolved around the issue of child marriage and the disparity in age of marriage for males and females in the existing law.

Aisha Mukhtar, deputy country representative in Pakistan, said that the economic cost of child marriage was being researched by the UN WOMEN.

“There is a World Bank study that shows if child marriage is stopped, income will increase”, she said. “Costing study is a globally recognised tool that measures the economic cost of any form of violence against women and girls. We will be starting from Punjab and KP and move on from there.”

She hoped the amendment to the law would be introduced soon, and unanimously supported in assembly.

Child marriages have an impact at individual as well as community levels. It is a grave violation of fundamental human rights as it has consequences on every aspect of the child’s life and has negative impacts on the community and society at large. There is strong evidence that child marriage has a negative impact on the development and progress of a country.

A number of parliamentarians attended the session, including Raheela Khadum Hussain, Bushra Butt, Shamsa Ali, Zainab Hussain, Musarrat Jamshed Cheema and Punjab Ombudsperson Rukhsana Gilani and others. They shared their views on the topic and agreed that the computerised national identity card (CNIC) should be a condition for marriage for both girls and boys.

The event was co-hosted by MPA Uzma Kardar, who is also chairperson of the Women Empowerment and Gender Mainstreaming Committee of the Punjab Assembly - the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women.

A documentary was also shown on child marriage situation in Pakistan in which chairperson of Counsel of Islamic Ideology Qibla Ayaz can be seen talking in favour of raising the age of marriage for girls from 16 to 18.

Ahmer Majid, a lawyer, gave a presentation on the global and national statistics on child marriage. He said a majority of the Muslim countries have set 18 years as minimum age of marriage for both men and women. Those who do allow marriage below 18 have a number of legal measures in place to ensure it is well warranted.

In a panel discussion moderated by Ms Nabila Malick of UN Women, Mr Sohail Waraich, Member National Commission on the Status of Women, Mr Umer Rashid, Professor of Law, the University of Science and Technology, MNA Uzma Kardar, chairperson of Women Development & Gender Mainstreaming Committee and Mufti Raghib Hussain Naeemi, member of Council of Islamic Ideology spoke on various aspects of child marriage.

Lawyer Nida Usman Chaudhry, who was a participant, added that the mental and psychological health of a girl should also be taken into consideration before marriage.

Published in Dawn, June 13th, 2019