MIRPUR (AJK)               -              Azad Jammu Kashmir Prime Minister Raja Farooq Haider Khan Monday fully endorsed the proposed imposition of a ban on early-age marriages of children under 18 years of age in the State.

He, however, suggested consultation with the Islamic Ideological Council (IIC) of Azad Jammu & Kashmir to take the religious fraternity on board over the move. Raja Farooq Haider expressed these views while speaking at a seminar held in the State’s metropolis Monday evening. The seminar was hosted by the AJK Population Welfare Department in collaboration with the support of UNFPA and the Ministry of National Health Services Regulation and Coordination, Govt. of Pakistan.

The AJK PM described the rapid population growth as one of the core issues  confronted by Pakistan and resolved to make AJK a region where universal access to family planning for married couples would be made available as part of state’s obligation.

The AJK government will make all possible efforts to strengthen family planning facilities through functional integration with health department to secure better service delivery in reproductive healthcare”, he resolved, adding that only a balanced family size can guarantee the secured future of their children with proper grooming and education and only a sensible approach can contribute for a healthy society and nation. He assured to provide all resources required to department for proper service delivery.

Addressing the seminar AJK Minister for Population Welfare Dr Mustafa Bashir Abbasi paid tribute to the AJK PM for his unwavering support to the department for the cause of population management leading to a healthy society. He highlighted the achievements of the department for improved reproductive healthcare service delivery in AJK.

He while referring to the recommendations of Federal Task Force and Council of Common Interests, assured to follow the spirit of action plan that has already been finalised in consultation with Technical Support Unit established for the purpose. He appreciated the role of UNFPA for renewing its activities in AJK region and look forward to work with high spirit for the cause in the region in collaboration with public and private sectors. 

In his speech, AJK Population Welfare Secretary Raja Muhammad Razzaque while highlighting the international, national and regional population demographic and social indicators, presented eight core areas under CCI approved recommendations with specific focus on proposed legislation for Early Child Marriages Restraint Act.

He while referring the examples of Indonesia, Bangladesh, Saudi Arabia and Iran, underlined that its the political will that can tangibly contribute to lowering population growth rate in a country or region.

AJK Law, Justice, Parliamentary Affairs & Human Rights Secretary Irshad Ahmed Qureshi presented the salient features of the proposed legislation for Early Child Marriage Restraint Act in AJK while referring to the examples from Sindh and Punjab provinces. He responded various questions of the participants.

Secretary to AJK President, Dr Idrees Abbasi while making a presentation in the perspective of international law, linked family planning with human right approach and supported the proposed piece of legislation. Likewise, Dr Nosheena Shabbir, a local Gynaecologist while speaking to the seminar shed light on medical problems associated with early marriages. Her arguments were also followed by Dr Bushra Shams. 

The seminar was aimed at sensitising the stakeholders for the implications entailed in rapid population growth in the country and disseminating the salient features of proposed legislation for Child Marriages Restraint Act. Besides the Ministers and legislatures, the seminar was largely attended by senior government functionaries including the officials related to the legislation process in AJK.

It is worth mentioning that the Council of Common Interests (CCI) while keeping in view the challenges faced by Pakistan and under the directive of Supreme Court of Pakistan approved a set of recommendations, aiming at accelerating the efforts of the Government to reduce Population Growth Rate (PGR), lower Total Fertility Rate (TFR) and increase Contraceptive Prevalence Rate (CPR).

The Federal Government retains the fostering role of sharing vision/guidelines for advancing national development perspective while as a result of 18th amendment in the Constitution of Pakistan, the subject of population has been devolved to the provinces. However, to the extent of regions (AJK, GB& ICT) the subject continuously falls within responsibility of the federal government. The seminar focused on one of key recommendations of CCI i.e. required legislation to achieve the objective in real spirit.

The seminar turned as great source of awareness for the policy makers and  Its very much obvious that it will yield positive results in taking viable measures including required legislation to reduce  PGR, lower TFR and increase CPR in Pakistan as well as AJK.