Combating Child Marriages


Introduction – Size of the Problem in Punjab

Child MarriagePunjab is home to over 50 million children, persons below the age of 18 and 25 million of them are girls. Though no comprehensive data available, but various small research efforts made by civil society estimate that four of 10 girls in Punjab are married before reaching the age of 18 years.

Bedari has been working on the issue for a long time. Initially, it worked with the Federal Government to bring about amendments to the existing law – Child Marriages Restraint Act 1929. In the meanwhile, 18th Constitutional Amendment became operational which resulted in devolution of power to legislate on children’s issues to provincial legislatures. Bedari turned its focus from the Federal legislature towards Punjab Assembly. Furthermore, it emerged from the various consultations with stakeholders, parents from rural and urban communities, young people, social workers, media and government officials that there was a need to introduce a comprehensive new law.

How it progressed

As Bedari was chalking out a plan to move forward, it joined hands with UNFPA in 2012 and started a comprehensive campaign to address the issue. Following are the highlights of this campaign.

The Consultations with Stakeholders

The two partners held many consultations with various stakeholders to find an effective way to deal with the issue. It discussed the issue with men, women, youth, rural and urban communities, religious and political leaders, and local opinion makers. Separate consultations were held with other stake holders including legal fraternity, medical practitioners, and officials of law enforcement agencies, political parties at regional and provincial level.

The Draft Bill

The outcome of all the consultations was shared with a lawyer, who prepared a draft bill Prohibition of Child Marriages in Punjab. Later, the bill was shared widely for feedback and comments from legal community as well as human rights experts and civil society organizations.

Advocacy and Lobbying

Individual and group meetings were conducted with over 60 MPAs of Punjab. The issue of child marriage was discussed in detail. Most of these meetings were very successful. An overwhelming majority of assembly members particularly women are in the favor of legislation to eradicate child marriages.

Press Conferences highlighting the issue of child marriages were held in five major cities, Rawalpindi, Faisalabad, Multan and Bahawalpur, of Punjab, and a provincial level conference was held in Lahore. The conference was a real success. The Minister for Population Welfare Punjab chaired the conference. Mr. IA Rehman, director HRCP was the guest of honor and government was represented by the Director General Social Welfare Department. All promised to support the cause by taking the process forward.

AACM LogoAn alliance is formed

On the other hand, Bedari continued with its efforts to form an alliance with other civil society organizations interested in resolving this issue. The efforts bore fruit and Alliance against Child Marriages (AACM) was formed in 2013. Currently, it has 18 members. AACM has adopted the bill prepared by Bedari under the project supported by UNFPA. AACM is moving together to take the bill forward with full force. It will enhance the likelihood of its passage from provincial assembly.

Awareness

Street Theater against Child Marriages

Street Theater against Child Marriages

On the other hand, Bedari continues with its efforts to raise awareness in the communities about the need for new legislation. It has broadcast radio programs through various popular FM Channels and organized street theaters. Its play “Yeh Shadi Nahi Ho Sakti” (No to Child Marriage) has been performed in over 150 communities in Multan, Vehari and Chakwal districts.