Lahore -In 2011, a United Nations resolution established 11 October as the International Day of the Girl Child (IDGC), a day designated for promoting the rights of girls and addressing the unique challenges they face. In recognition of the importance of investing in and empowering girls during adolescence and preventing and eliminating the various forms of violence they experience, the theme of International Day of the Girl Child is being celebrated under the theme of Empowering Adolescent Girls: Ending the Cycle of Violence.

Children Advocacy Network (CAN-Pakistan) a rights organisation, working to alter government’s policies to ensure effective implementation of UNCRC, observed on 11th October under the same international theme by a series of remarkable and strategically important activities led by girls of different age brackets to influence the government for enactment of legislation. These activities are an effort to engage the media for promotion of girls’ rights and religious scholars to support prohibition of children marriages in Punjab through enactment of The Punjab Prohibition of Child Marriages Act.

A delegation of 20 girls visited the residence of Provincial Minister for Human Rights and Minority Affairs Khalil Tahir Sindhu and presented a resolution to him, highlighting the International Obligations of Pakistan under UN Convention on the Rights of Children (UNCRC). They demanded that the UNCRC, in its concluding observations and recommendations (2009), suggested that the Government of Pakistan must take legislative measures to increase the minimum age of marriage for Girls under The Child Marriages Restraint Act 1929 up to 18 years which is currently 16 years.

The delegation also put a point that under Article 25 of the Constitution of Pakistan, all citizens of Pakistan are equal and there will be no discrimination on the basis of sex so the difference between the age of marriage for a girl and boy is not aligning with the constitutional provision. The girls also showed their concern that besides number of incidence of sexual abuse and violence against girls were reported, the Punjab government did not come with multidimensional strategy of safeguarding the girls from all form of abuse and exploitation. They maintained that the law enforcement agencies and administrative machinery was only focussed on individual cases.

They also demanded that the Punjab government must approve the Child Protection Policy without any further delay and the policy should come with all required human and financial resources to get the true benefits of the policy.

The girls regretted that the investigation of Sexual Abuse cases were being performed by the non trained investigation officers, suggesting that Women Police Officer should be trained to investigate the sexual abuse cases. “A special cell to monitor the progress of investigation in cases of crimes against children and to avoid unnecessary delay in such cases should be established in Central Police Office under the direct supervision of a senior Officer,: they added.

The Punjab government should also establish the outlets to provide the Psychological Counseling services to the victims and survivors of the Sexual Abuse.

The delegation also visited the Lahore Press Club (LPC) to have a meeting with Governing Body of LPC and stressed that the media should make the government accountable for not making necessary legislation to protect the Children Rights in general and girls in specific.

They also highlighted the important role of the media in raising awareness among communities about harmful effects of Child Marriages and also take up the issues to relevant authorities and political parties in their prime time shows.

Keeping in view the important role of religious scholars, the delegation held a meeting with renowned religious scholar Dr Raghib Naeemi at his seminary for girls; where the debate of Child Marriages were taken up by the girls from CAN Pakistan platform. Hundreds of girls from seminary also became a part of this importance discussion to understand the points of view.

The delegation put following points in front of Dr Raghib Naeemi to respond them in the light of Islam:

Child brides have a double pregnancy death rate of women in their 20s; Child brides are at an extremely high risk of fistulas, as in developing countries leading cause of death for young girls between the age of 15 and 19 is early pregnancy; the babies of Child brides are sicker ad weaker and many do not survive childhood;

Child wives are three times as likely to have serious psychological problems; these girls are at the increased risk of chronic anemia and obesity; Child brides have a higher risk of becoming a victim of domestic and other kinds of violence.

Dr Raghib Naeemi shared his view that that there was not clear determination of age for the marriage of girls in Islam, however, if incidents of Child Marriages were happing only because of cultural values under practice for several years. He also stressed that there was a dire need to work for behavioral changes of communities to address this issue as well.

CAN Pakistan’s Spokesperson Rashida Qureshi said that to take efforts to end all forms of violence against girls and women to the next level.–PR