“Most people simply don’t know the extent of the problem. An estimated 25,000 child marriages occur every day. That’s mind-boggling, so much so that to many people, it becomes abstract, unreal.” – Gavin Weston, Author. Indeed unreal should one opt to browse through the statistics published by UNICEF. According to UNICEF, a startling 21% of girls married in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan in the year 2016 were below 18 years of age, 3% below the age of 15. The poverty, illiteracy, customs, gender inequality, insecurity and much more contributes to this evil practice, almost always leading to the girl’s physical, mental and social health causing serious overall health issues.
Being a member of the South Asia Initiative to End Violence Against Children (SAIEVAC), an inter-governmental body which has adopted a regional action plan to target child marriage, Pakistan was among the first few states to propose a target to end child marriages by 2030. This commitment seems evident in the overall developments in the legislation at Federal as well as Provincial level.
Despite Pakistan’s Child Marriage Restraint ACT (CMRA) 1929 setting the legal age for marriage to 16 for women and 18 for men, the transgressions continue unabated. In February 2017, the Parliament adopted an amendment to the Penal Code introducing tougher punishments for the offenders with imprisonment of at least five years and up to 10 years which may be accompanied with a fine of up to Rs. 1 million. April 2014 witnessed adoption of Sindh Child Marriage Restraint Act, increasing the minimum age to 18. Punjab introduced a Bill introducing harsher punishments for offenders while maintaining the minimum age at 16. The Council of Islamic Ideology, a constitutional body which gives Islamic legal advice to the Government of Pakistan, declared the laws prohibiting child marriage un-Islamic followed by severe criticism from various quarters. Noman Ali of East London Mosque had these views which indeed seem to be a ray of hope.
While the legislation, its implementation, prevalence of justice remain a challenge and as the common people keep on being sent in all different direction in the name of Islam, there are certain individuals who make it a point to do all they can using any medium possible to create awareness among the masses, pushing for education, equality, sending out a loud and clear message that a daughter is an asset and not a liability.
Waqar J. Khan, a young man in late 20s, in his continuous pursuit to add value and address perhaps the most controversial issues which plague the society, conceptualized a photoshoot to create awareness. Waqar had recently been the talk of the town for his efforts in introducing the first transgender model , objective there being social inclusion and bringing the historically oppressed into the mainstream.
Partnering up with Muhammad Haseeb Siddiqui, a teacher of Photography and CEO & Founder of Haseeb Siqqiqui and Saima Rashid Bargfrede, hair designer, makeup artist, and styling expert, who lives to inspire or get inspired, the tremendous trio showcased beautiful young girls in an inspiring and effectual fashion shoot. What could have been better than tackling gender inequality in the conventionally male dominated sports arena? The girls were carefully selected from an age group typically falling prey to the stigma of early marriage.
Areeba is 8 years old. She loves to play cricket and is currently enrolled in Grade 4. 12-year-old Suman is training to be a boxer while studying in Grade 8. She is the first girls to partake in an outdoor activity. Esha enjoys playing football, is 10 years old and a student of Grade 5. These powerful picture etch the soul. The left reflecting upon the sacrifice of a precious life as young girls are married to become more of slaves for labor and object of pleasure, while the right reflects upon the inordinate resolve, to grow, to fulfill dreams, to contribute, shoulder to shoulder with their male counterparts. These young girls did not just pose for this shoot to make a statement. Here you see an actual cricketer, a boxer and a footballer. How did all this become possible? The answer lies in a dream of a man named Zakir. Coach Zakir. Zakir knows not how to differentiate between a girl and a boy and believes in provision of equal opportunity irrespective of gender. Zakir runs the Muslim Sports Complex Orangi West in Karachi. The facility provides training to males, females, young and old. Zakir wanted to inculcate a competitive attitude in the community transcending the boundaries ever so ingrained backed by a long history of gender bias and caste system. It was initially an uphill task for Zakir to enroll females for training in his sports complex. However, perseverance paid off. Zakir doesn’t only train young and old males and females in the sports activity of their choice, but also reinforces the concept of mutually coexistence across caste, ethnicity, dispensing one of the most important responsibilities of bringing up tolerant youth.
Waqar, Haseeb, Saima and Zakir have certainly proven that much can be done to improve the quality of life and addresses various social evils at the individual level and every issue can just not be left to the legislation and subsequently, to the law enforcement agencies to implement the law, if it becomes at all and doesn’t fall prey to various interpretations of Islam.