Guest blog: child marriage-free zones in Pakistan will help girls realise their dreams
By Baela Raza Jamil
Director of Programmes, Idara-e-Taleem-o-Aagahi (ITA), and Coordinator, South Asia Forum for Education Development
There are 58 million children out of school, with a disproportionate number of them girls. At this rate, the practices of early child marriage, conflict, child labour and poverty will keep Millennium Development Goal 2 – all children accessing and completing primary education – a distant dream.
There is a groundswell of voices being raised against the practices that snatch away the fundamental rights of the child. As we complete a quarter-century of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), one of the most popularly endorsed comprehensive conventions on child rights, and are coming up to 2015 to mark the end of MDGs, we are reminded of how bitterly far away we are from our commitments violating many conventions including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948.
A publication by Alif Ailaan, titled 25 Million Broken Promises, highlights the challenge of ensuring fundamental right to education given under Article 25A of the constitution of Pakistan.This promises education as a state obligation for children aged five to 16. The narrative comes alive with real-life examples of violations of the article.
Saba is barely 13 – but instead of going to school she is being prepared for marriage to someone thrice her age as the safest option for life. She cried all night instead of rejoicing at the beginning of her new journey. Her best friend Farida was lucky as her parents agreed for her to live with her aunt in a small town 20 kilometers away to continue with middle and, hopefully, high school.
Saba and Farida had dreamed of becoming a pilot and an engineer. They had looked at some exciting female role models and thought” “Why not us?”
Saba’s dreams lie shattered, facing a reality that will make her fundamentally unfulfilled for the rest of her life – a sadness that will remain in her home and in every child she gives birth to.
It is this comprehensive fact that is bothering her – the tears keep flowing. But no one really asked her anything. The cruel fact of no middle school in the village and neighbouring five villages, growing conflict due to militancy, poor economic conditions in the village and some scores to settle between the two families compelled her family to look for “safer” havens for Saba.
One by one her dreams lie crushed. Her village school was supposed to be upgraded to elementary level. Had the file got stuck somewhere in the bureaucracy? No one cared – they even sent letters to the district education officer but perhaps it lies unopened.
Saba is destined to be a child bride to someone who may never understand her dreams and perhaps treat her poorly as a “settlement bride”. Saba will become another sorry education and maternal health statistic. Is that fair?
Compelling evidence on the importance of primary and secondary education and its impact on delayed age of marriage, child bearing or reduction in fertility and stunting levels is set aside in favour of poor and under-serviced opportunities for learning.
The South Asia region in general and Pakistan in particular has one of the highest rates of child marriage in the world. Fifty per cent of girls marry before the age of 19 and 40% below 18 – mostly in rural areas due to poor laws, implementation and lack of services that push girls and boys into child marriages easily in collusion with customs and traditions (Hands 2013, Nasrullah, Zakar & Kramer, 2013 and Pakistan Demographic and Health Survey PDHS). A comparative survey by Godhaetal (2013) across South Asia also revealed that Pakistan was second out of four countries where girls had husbands 10 years older than them.
To offset such traditions, a bold step is being taken in Sindh, where recently the Child Marriage Restraint Act 2013 was passed to raise the age of marriage for both girls and boys to 18. In the province of Sindh, district Matiari, only three hours from the mega city of Karachi, a child marriage-free zone is being established by A World at School partner Idara-e-Taleem-o-Aagahi (ITA) in collaboration with HANDS, mobilising youth media and parliamentarians for the implementation of both 25A and CMRA 2013. The Alliance Against Child Marriage (AACM) will join hands in this campaign.
Promising practices from around the globe and South Asia will be emulated to ensure that everyday tragedies like Saba are reduced and eventually eliminated through multiple strategies that include stopping awareness, advocacy, improved and upgraded education facilities for both girls and boys.
You can learn more about the work of ITA here. And you can donate to Create a Child Marriage-Free Zone in Pakistan on the Catapult crowdfunding website.
Ending child marriage is one of the themes of the #EducationCountdown campaign – read more about it here.