UN Women Executive Director joins the call for an end to child marriage in Pakistan.
MITHI -- Making one of Pakistan's most impoverished districts the first stop of her first official visit to the country, United Nations Under-Secretary-General and UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka called upon the entire community to end child marriages and voice their commitment to change the lives of girls and young women for the better. 'Becoming a 'zero child-marriage' village will require everyone's efforts. Girls and young women must have the means and information to make their own decisions.
They need to know that they are not property. They have both rights and a voice to SAY NO,' Ms. Mlambo-Ngcuka said in her dialogue with over 300 residents, notables of the area, government officials, civil society representatives and members of the local press. They gathered at the Shaheed Benazir Bhutto Cultural Complex in the district capital, Mithi, at an event to mark the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-based Violence campaign.
'When the whole nation commits to tackling deep-rooted traditions like child marriage head-on, millions of girls stand to benefit. This is also a task for men, who can accelerate progress by saying simply 'I will not marry a child',' the Executive Director said. Calling on religious and traditional leaders to use their position of authority to take a stand against violence and protect the rights of girls, the Executive Director received pledges from religious clerics, registrars and local politicians to make Mithi a 'zero child marriage' village and set an example for others to follow.
The Minister for Women Development for the Province of Sindh, Syeda Shehla Raza, said that early child marriage is among the contributing factors to both relatively high rates of maternal and child mortality in Tharparkar, which needs urgent attention through multi-pronged interventions. She added that the Government of Sindh is doing everything possible to ensure the implementation of laws related to women's health and the social, political and economic empowerment of women. Pakistan's Child Marriage Restraint Act 1929 sets the legal age for marriage at 16 for women and 18 for men. In April 2014, the provincial Sindh Assembly unanimously adopted the Sindh Child Marriage Restraint Act, making marriage under the age of 18 a punishable offence. However, Minister Raza said more public awareness and oversight by relevant authorities are needed to ensure adherence to the law.
She thanked Ms. Mlambo-Ngcuka for beginning her visit in Tharparkar, saying she hopes it will amplify the collective efforts to fight early child marriage, not only in Sindh but across the nation. Child marriage is a fundamental human rights violation that constitutes a grave threat to young girls' lives, health and future prospects. The right to 'free and full' consent to a marriage is recognized in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights-with the recognition that consent cannot be 'free and full' when one of the parties involved is not sufficiently mature to make an informed decision about a life partner.
'This (child marriage) issue needs a continuous and focused effort, and we are thankful to UN Women for supporting the Sindh Commission on the Status of Women in conducting the training of marriage registrars all over Sindh which will involve local government officers, commissioners and union councils,' said Nuzhat Shirin, Chair of the Sindh Commission on the Status of Women. It is estimated that there are 650 million women and girls in the world today who were married before age 18. During the past decade, the global rate of child marriage has declined from one in four young women aged 20-24 being married as children, to almost one in five.
At the national 16 Days of Activism event in this southeast district of Pakistan, the Executive Director encouraged families and the community to be more vigilant to prevent and report cases of under-aged marriage. She also urged the religious leaders who solemnize marriages to confirm whether the bride and groom are of legal age, stressing the importance of birth certificates and national identity cards for verification child is 18. 'The decision to marry should be a freely made, informed decision that is taken without fear, coercion, or undue pressure,' said the Executive Director.
By speaking out against child marriage, religious and traditional leaders can help to change the social and cultural norms that perpetuate the practice even when there are laws in place to prevent it. Social and gender inequality, a desire to control women's sexuality and protect family honor, economic hardship and lack of awareness of the harmful impact of child marriage are common driving factors. Working with men and boys is critical to end such marriages as in many communities where men hold the power and make the decisions.
'UN in Pakistan is supporting community initiatives in both rural and urban areas across the country that work with girls and boys and that seek to foster youth leadership aimed at ending violence against women and girls and that support young women and men as champions for change,' said Jamshed Kazi, UN Women Country Representative. Chief Executive Officer Thardeep Rural Development Program (TRDP) Dr. Allah Nawaz Samo gave welcome remarks and an overview of TRDP work on gender equality in lower Sindh.