Picture: Rutgers WPF, Pakistan in Partnership with HANDS
The first child marriage-free zone in Pakistan was announced at the #UpForSchool rally in New York by Baela Jamil, Director of Programmes at Idara-e-Taleem-o-Aagahi.
The initial funding for the project has been supported by the Global Business Coalition for Education and it will form the first of a series of initiatives to help keep girls in school in Pakistan.
Child marriage represents one of the greatest obstacles for development. It robs girls of an education, exposes them to health risks and annihilates any sense of value and hope they possess. Every year, 14 million girls under the age of 18 become brides - an average of 38,000 girls every day.
It is a global problem and the root causes of child marriage are deeply entrenched in poverty and patriarchal traditions. Viewed as economic burdens to their families, girls are married off as soon as they hit the age of puberty and this is exacerbated by the dowry custom, where the cost increases the older the girl gets, thereby encouraging early marriages.
Baela Jamil said: "Rallying together in creating child free marriage zones (CFMZ) in Pakistan, through alliances within the country with youth and civil society organisations and A World at School, is a bold initiative that will raise the profile of girls who are most vulnerable, give voice to their fundamental right to learn, creating multiple spaces of protection through mainstream and alternative pathways to life skills, entitlements and advocacy.
"We are fortunate to have with us champions such as Gordon and Sarah Brown, the Global Youth Ambassadors for Education, famous film maker and human rights defender Samar Minallah and Samiya Mumtaz - the lead actor in the famous Pakistani film Dukhtar on child marriages, which was nominated for an Oscar. With such powerful groups behind this campaign, Pakistan will set a precedent for creating several CMFZs."
Sarah Brown, co-founder of A World at School, says: “We want to protect girls’ basic human rights and provide them with opportunities to go to school, to learn and to make a living for themselves. It is exciting to see the business community join forces with young people in Pakistan and around the world to support child marriage free zones and encourage girls to stay on at school."
Building on the success of similar efforts in Bangladesh, the aim is to empower young people to create, join and lead community dialogues to help prevent child marriages.
These young people will be known as the “wedding busters” group. They will speak out to community leaders and parents calling for the right to complete their schooling and not be forced into early marriage.
The project will campaign and lobby for tighter legislation and push to increase the legal age for girls to marry from 16 to 18. It will also offer legal and social assistance to those affected by child marriage. And it will provide a platform for people to raise their voices and collectively stand together for the future of these girls and the right for every child to go to school.