RAWALPINDI - The government must step forward to secure child rights in the country with a comprehensive legislation banning child marriages.

The government should also ensure child rights protection by prescribing harsher punishments for the culprits of child marriages including the parents of bride and groom, the Nikahkhwan, and Nikah registrar.

This was demanded by human rights activists, public elected representatives, religio-political leaders, lawyers, educationists, journalists and people belonging to various walks of life at a dialogue 'Demanding Law to eliminate child marriages' arranged by a non-governmental organisation (NGO) Bedardi here at a local hotel on Saturday. The prominent among the speakers were PML-N MPA Tehseen Fawad and Executive Director Bedardi Saleem Malik.

Tehseen Fawad said that there was need for legislation to stop child marriages by taking board other legislators, government concerned authorities, religio-political parties, local community, NGOs, lawyers, educationist and people from other walks of life. She said that by bringing any changes in the law to prevent and restrain child marriages, society as a whole should also be made aware.

Saleem Malik, ED Bedari, during the event shared the aims and objectives of the campaign against child marriages, and informed the attendees about the gravity of the situation by sharing statistics, facts and issues of child marriages. He said that there was dire need of discouraging child marriages and emphasising on girls' education to mitigate the issue.

Other participants, most of them having social-sector and legal background, identified some legal lacunas in the draft of the bill. They said that CNIC number of a girl and boy should be made mandatory for registering their marriage in Nikah form as well. "The age of girls should be also enhanced to 18 for signing this social contract," they said. They also urged civil society to create awareness among people about the impacts of marriage on a child's life.

They demanded of the government to respect its international commitments by introducing laws, which define children as per United Nations Convention on the Rights of The Child (UNCRC).

Saleem Malik said that the law on child marriages should set 18 years as age limit and CNIC a must for both boys and girls as per international commitments. Bedari was running a campaign to end child marriages in Punjab, he told.

He said that they arranged such events in Rawalpindi, Bahawalpur, Faisalabad, and Multan as well before. They added that the campaign would conclude with a provincial level conference in Lahore on December 19, which would prove a milestone in protection of child rights.

MPA Tehseen said by giving vote of thanks in the end that she would be a strong supporter and a significant vote in Punjab Assembly in favour of this law against child marriages. She has also appreciated the efforts made by Bedari to create awareness and build the consensus in favour of this bill.