KARACHI: Despite having the Child Marriage Restraint Act since 2013, Sindh has seen an overall increase in girl child marriages between 2014-15 and 2018-19 with Jacobabad topping the list followed by Tando Allahyar, Ghotki and Hyderabad in terms of the highest percentage increase in girl marriage under 15 years.

Within the most urban district of Karachi, an increased number of girl child marriages under 18 years are reported from all zones/sub-districts except Malir. Few cases of child marriage are reported to the law enforcement agencies.

These findings are part of a report — Child Marriage in Sindh: A Political Economy Analysis — launched on Monday at a local hotel.

Organised by the Population Council with support from United Nations Fund Population Fund (UNFPA), the programme was attended by members of the Sindh Assembly, senior government officials, civil society representatives, health practitioners and journalists.

Child marriage perpetuates gender inequality and slows economic, social development

According to the study, 22 per cent of women of ages 20-24 years reported being married before reaching their 18th birthday in 2018-19 whereas about 7.5pc of them reported being married before 15 years of age, which is higher than national average of 18.3pc and 3.6pc, respectively.

The reported prevalence of girl child marriage rose by 1.3pc for girls married under age 15 and by 2.2pc for girls married before the age of 18 years, between 2014 and 2018-19, in the province.

Across Sindh, 14 districts out of the total 29 districts show an increase in girl child marriage for either girls under 15 or those under 18 years, and nine districts are seeing a rise in both to varying degrees.

Districts Jacobabad (46pc) and Kashmore (42.9pc) in the north of Sindh and district Umerkot (40pc) in the south are hotspots in terms of the highest percentage reported cases of child marriage under 18 years.

Only Sindh has criminalised child marriage

The report highlights Sindh is the only province in Pakistan to formally criminalise child marriage for both girls and boys under18 years of age under the Sindh Child Marriage Restraint Act (SCMRA), 2013.

“While the minimum age for marriage for girls has been increased from 16 to 18 years vide amendments to the federal law on child marriage, there is limited discourse on the subject in the province beyond legal solutions, and less emphasis on girl-centered care planning and prevention,” it said.

Maternal mortality ratio, the report points out, which is intricately linked to child marriage, remains high in Sindh.

“Strategies to end girl child marriage in Sindh need to be tailored to sub-provincial contexts and address the political economy drivers of such marriages as the practice is not consistent across districts and may be the result of a combination of different factors that come into play locally,” Sara Zaman, the report’s author, said in a presentation.

She shared evidence on how child marriage perpetuates gender inequality in multiple spheres and slows economic and social development by preventing girls and women from contributing fully to society.

Ms Zaman also presented legal, policy and institutional mechanisms to address the issue emphasising on implementation of laws related to child marriage, promote greater investment in institutional strengthening, and raising public awareness through parents and community leaders.

Need for inclusive approach

SZABIST president and ex-MNA Shahnaz Wazir Ali underscored the need for a multi-sectoral and inclusive approach to address the issue and find rights-based solutions to prevent child marriage. “The government, relevant ministries, civil society and media must come together for collective and transformational change,” she said.

Sindh Population Welfare Secretary Rehan Iqbal Baloch highlighted initiatives being undertaken by the department to improve young people’s access to family planning services. “The Sindh government is working to enhance the family planning programme by focusing on effective coordination to provide timely family planning information, counselling and services to young couples.”

The speakers included Bayramgul Garabayeva, focal person, Sindh office, UNFPA in Pakistan, Dr Haleema Yasmin of the Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre, Dr Talib Lashari, technical adviser, FP 2030-CIP cell, Sindh, and Saifullah Abro, director general of the Sindh Social Welfare.

Published in Dawn, December 7th, 2021

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