Mar 27, 2009

No right to childhood

Despite the presence of laws that ban it, child marriages continue across the country. Most cases take place in Sindh with one of the latest emerging from a village near Jacobabad, where a policeman rather unusually intervened to halt the marriage of a seven-year-old to a man nearly four times her age. Her mother had sold the child to pay medical bills for her sick husband. Other little girls are of course not as fortunate. Reports of child marriages come in from many places, particularly Sindh and southern Punjab. There is evidence that growing poverty plays a part in the continuation of the practice, with impoverished parents sometimes feeling they have no options but to sell off daughters to pay debts or simply to survive. Often, the buyers are relatively elderly men.There is, however, another reason that lies beyond poverty for the practice. The failure to punish those who play a part in arranging child marriages is a key factor. The impunity they enjoy encourages others to commit similar crimes. There are, unfortunately, too few policemen willing to step in and ensure a child is not robbed of her right to childhood or sold into a life that almost invariably brings immense hardship and often a risk to life posed by early pregnancy. The young constable who took so bold a stand to save a girl in his area needs to be applauded. We must also hope others will emulate his action and adopt it as a precedent. Only such initiatives from those on the ground can bring an end to an evil practice and ensure the law assumes meaning that expands beyond the sheets of paper it is written out on.

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