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Child Marriage Restraint Act was drafted by Quaid-i-Azam

Child Marriage Restraint Act was drafted by Quaid-i-Azam

A piece of legislation that is 18 years older than Pakistan as a nation itself. Child Marriage Restraint Act was drafted by Quaid-i-Azam. It was moved by a Hindu, Rai Haridas Sarda and is also known as the Sarda Bill.

Like today, even at that time it created a controversy because of which it remained pending in the House for two long years. Quaid-i-Azam stood staunchly in favor of its enactment and stated, “I cannot believe that there can be a divine sanction for such evil practices as are prevailing, and that we should, for a single minute, give our sanction to the continuance of these evil practices any longer. How can there be such a divine sanction to this cruel, horrible, disgraceful, inhuman practice that is prevailing in India?” Jinnah was very well aware of whom he was opposing and he was not prepared to buckle under on a matter of principle. The bill is now known as Child Marriage Restraint Act 1929 and after a decade still applicable in most provinces of Pakistan including Islamabad Capital Territory. The Child Marriage Restraint Act has only once been amended in 1961 raising the age of solemnization of girl child from 14 to 16.

Since then it has been perpetuating and supporting a harmful traditional practice that in essence does nothing positive for our economy or situation of women and girls in Pakistan. Unfortunately, only the legislators of Sindh repealed the law and enacted The Sindh Child Marriage Restraint Act, 2014. To give credit to legislators in Punjab, they did amend the said law but the law still remains partly opposed to the basic rights and guarantees citizens of Pakistan have as per the Constitution of Pakistan and is blatantly discriminatory towards girls.

As many as 21% of girls are married before the age of 18 years and 3% before the age of 15 years in Pakistan according UNICEF database 2016, based on Demographic Health Survey of Pakistan 2012-13. Recent Demographic Health Survey of Pakistan (2017-18), report that although on an average the age of marriage of girls is increasing but a deeper analysis of the data shows that child marriages at the age of 15 years has increased from 1.6 per cent to 1.8 per cent. The percentage of women who have begun child bearing (15-19 years) has also increased in ages between 15, 16 and 17 years.

Child marriage deprives a child of the right to education. In Pakistan, almost 1 out of 4 women in the age group of 20-24 was married as a child and nearly one third of all women are already mothers by the age of 20. The percentage of child marriages is higher in rural areas as opposed to urban areas, this harmful traditional practice is common among the lower wealth quintiles and where there is low educational status, where opportunities and customs dictate that education is not for girls.

Child Marriage further perpetuates the cycle of poverty and if we do not act now, the impact of inter-generational cycle of mal-nutrition will be seen not too far from now. National surveys point to relatively high levels of stunting (22%) and overweight (16%) among adolescent girls aged 15-19 years. Levels of micronutrient deficiencies are especially alarming, with more than half of adolescent girls 15-19 years suffering from anemia; 21% are iron deficient; 49% are folic acid deficient; 42% are zinc deficient; and 40% vitamin A deficient.

In Pakistan, Pregnancy and childbirth related complications are the main causes of death for mothers aged 15 to 19. Maternal mortality for females under age 20 is 242 deaths for every 100,000 births. 116 children under one year of age die for 1,000 births by women under age 20 (PDHS 2006-7) versus 75 per 1,000 for the children of women who give birth between the ages of 20 to 29.

High population growth may threaten long- term prosperity and exacerbate competition for access to scarce resources in the coming years. High population growth may also weaken the ability of government to provide basic services of quality to their population, among others in the areas of education, health, nutrition, and infrastructure. Child marriages not only impacts families but also affects the very fabric of our society

Pakistan will face huge economic losses in the future if each and every effort is not made to revive its economy and socially uplift its people. Ending child marriage is one of the steps that needs to be taken starting with amending or repealing the Child Marriage Restraint Act of 1929, to have a piece of legislation that reflects the guarantees in our constitution, followed by awareness raising through religious leaders as per recommendations of Council of Islamic Ideology. This would be the beginning for putting an end to the harmful traditional practice of Child Marriage in Pakistan.

Rahila Khadim Hussain

MPA, Punjab

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