Young people must be at the heart of addressing child marriage. We spoke to youth advocate Iram Asif who set up her own youth organisation in Lahore, Pakistan to help address violence against women in the country.
How did you begin working on child marriage?
I dream of a world where all girls enjoy basic human rights and are free from violence. Child marriage stands in the way of this dream. So, in 2010 I decided to do something about it. I established the Kafka Welfare Organization to campaign for better laws in Pakistan so that girls are protected from child marriage and receive a quality education.
How big is the problem of child marriage in Pakistan?
Statistics show that 21% of girls in Pakistan are married under the age of 18. This is because of the social norms that dominate our society and dictate what it means to be a girl. Parents often marry their daughters to control their sexuality and protect the family honour.
The exchange of dowry, the practice of Vani – when girls are married off to repay debts or as punishment for their male relatives’ wrong doings – also drives the practice in impoverished parts of Pakistan. That, and a lack of awareness about the harmful impact of child marriage on girls also drives it.
What is being done to address child marriage in Pakistan?
The legal situation is slowly evolving. In April 2014, the Sindh Assembly unanimously agreed to increase the age to 18. In March 2015, Punjab introduced harsher penalties for child marriage, and in November 2016 the Baluchistan Assembly recognised forced marriage as child abuse.
However, the Pakistan National Assembly has yet to increase the age of marriage to 18 years for both men and women. There are also religious and cultural factors at play. A few years ago, the Council of Islamic Ideology, a constitutional body which gives Islamic legal advice to the Pakistani Government, ruled that prohibiting child marriage was “un-Islamic”.
How is Kafka Welfare Organization campaigning to end child marriage?
Engaging parliamentarians is a big part of our campaign because we won’t develop youth-friendly policies without them. In 2014, we launched “Join hands to prevent child marriages” to recommend amendments to the Child Marriage Restraint Act 1929.
We would like to increase the punishment for child marriage. Currently in Pakistan men who marry someone under the age of 18 face as little as one month’s imprisonment or a fine of $10. This does little to deter perpetrators and pales in comparison to the sacrifices made by girls who are married before they are ready.
We organise workshops about sexual and reproductive rights for young people, and invite civil society and journalists to take part. We strongly believe that encouraging different parts of society to come together and recognise the consequences of child marriage is the way to promote change.
What do you think is the most important step to ending child marriage in Pakistan?
Besides making sure child marriage is illegal across the board, improving access to education for girls is fundamental to ending the practice. We campaign for the full implementation of Article 25-A of the Constitution to ensure that all children aged 5 to 16 have the right to free, quality education.
Iram is one of many Girls Not Brides members working to end child marriage in a generation and provide a brighter future for girls. Find out more about Kafka Welfare Organization.
In the time it has taken to read this article 20 girls under the age of 18 have been married
Each year, 12 million girls are married before the age of 18
That is 23 girls every minute
Nearly 1 every 3 seconds