WOMEN legislators in the KP Assembly have voiced their anger against growing incidents of underage marriage, sexual abuse and murder of children. They have demanded answers from the provincial government over the delay in legislation that criminalises child marriages and domestic violence. The outcry was sparked due to ghastly incidents in recent weeks: the marriage of a disabled 12-year-old girl to a teenager which culminated in her death allegedly at the hands of her in-laws in Lower Dir; the marriage of an 11-year-old girl in Torghar district, and the rape of a 13-year-old in Charsadda district. During the session, Nighat Yasmin Orakzai of the PPP correctly pointed out that, although the Punjab and Sindh assemblies had already passed laws to stop domestic violence against women, KP is yet to legislate on early marriages or domestic violence. In response to Ms Orakzai’s demand for “aggressive legislation”, the province’s law minister informed the house that a proposed law regarding domestic violence against women had been referred to the house’s Select Committee, while the Child Marriage Restraint Bill would also be presented before the cabinet.
That KP lawmakers have dragged their feet on such crucial legislation for so long is symptomatic of a larger problem: the lack of political will to protect women and children from abuse and violence. Child marriages are a violation of fundamental human rights and have serious repercussions on the health, education and well-being of the girl as well as her family. While there has been some consensus in the KP Assembly about bringing a law that criminalises child marriage, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Child Marriage Restraint Bill, 2019, is yet to be passed. Even this consensus was reached after months of wrangling over the issue of the ‘permissible minimum marriageable age’ for a female — a debate which reflects how deeply fraught the issue of something as basic as children and women’s protection is. On the issue of domestic violence legislation, there has been even more resistance from religious parties, who, along with the Council of Islamic Ideology, have created hurdles in bringing about the needed laws. It has been over a year since KP’s ministers pledged that pro-women legislation would be enacted. In the absence of these laws, vulnerable citizens continue to suffer while politicians avoid the issue. The PTI, which has now been in power in KP for two successive terms, must prioritise the passing of these laws to guarantee constitutional protection for women and children.
Published in Dawn, July 16th, 2020