Law enforcement authorities are not yet aware of the Sindh Child Marriages Restraint Act, 2013 and that is one of the biggest causes of the dearth of cases being registered under the law, said advocate Naeem Arain during an event organised by the Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (Piler) on child marriages on Monday.
In collaboration with organisations such as Access to Justice, Dastageer, and Law Society Pakistan, the event saw advocates and members of civil society organisations in large numbers. Lawyers, mostly serving in the high court or civil courts, mentioned that despite the law being passed by the provincial assembly in April 2014, not a single case of child marriage has come to the fore. There was one case that was reported from Hyderabad last year, but due to lack of follow-up, not much is known about what happened afterwards.
Speaking about the lack of reportage under the law, Mr Arain argued that child marriages occur more in Sindh as compared to other provinces. However, he added that “this could be because some cases made it to the public whereas this ‘custom’ is very much prevalent in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and parts of Balochistan.”
He said that one of the biggest problems in highlighting a case of child marriage is that the “police stations concerned across Sindh are not aware of the law or the sections under which they can arrest the culprits.”
Mr Arain added that sections 3, 4 and 5 of the law stipulate a punishment of three years if one or both are underage at the time of marriage, and a fine, respectively.
The punishment is the same for a guardian or parent in this case.
“The law is also a bailable offence,” Mr Arain pointed out, adding that it could be one of the problems law enforcers may have to deal with and legislators should consider modifying it.
He added that as per the law, a police officer can file an FIR if he/she gets to know about such a marriage taking place in the neighbourhood. A magistrate, he said, can also take action on receiving information of such a case.
He suggested that the law be translated into Urdu and Sindhi and distributed to police stations across Sindh.
Barrister Fayaz Ahmed Samor said that implementation, after legislation is most crucial. “One thing to consider is that such cases occur in other provinces, too. However, they do not come to the fore due to lack of reportage,” he said.
He further said that more than the law it is the mindset that lets such practices continue without proper punishment. “I do understand that raising the punishment cannot ensure deterrence yet it helps in bringing such cases and people to the fore,” he added.
Shujauddin Qureshi of Piler argued that in light of the existing laws — such as the one on domestic violence and sexual harassment — there needs to be a proper mechanism to keep check on such cases especially when the custom of child marriage is deep-rooted in society.
“It is good to know that we have replaced the colonial-era law [Child Marriage Restraint Act, 1929] and introduced a new one, but it would need as much vigilance. Awareness among the institutions dealing with it as well as the general public is necessary,” he added.