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Category Archives: Human Rights

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful commited citizens can change the world – indeed it is the only thing that ever does” -Margaret Meade

International Women’s Day: The tough but unpaid work women do at home

 Published: March 8, 2018

The time has come that not just men, but also women, start recognising the immense contribution of women in the survival of a family and a society. PHOTO: ISTOCK

“So do you work or are you just a housewife?”

I remember being asked this question many times by people I was meeting for the first time. I also remember asking other women the same insensitive question, simply because I too, like so many of us, had been conditioned to only value work that gets remuneration in return.

Looking back, the years during which I took a hiatus from work as a journalist, because I was looking after a home and my family, were the years I perhaps worked the hardest. Even physically.

Imagine for a moment that the women all around us – the mothers, the wives, the daughters and daughters-in-law, the sisters and the sisters-in-law – demanded they be paid for the care and services they provide to their families. Imagine what their bank statement would look like at the end of the year!

Let’s look at the numbers. Around the world, women spend two to 10 times more time on unpaid care work and domestic work than men – work that is not often counted in labour statistics. Countries have valued unpaid care work between 15% and 39% of national GDP. Data shows that women often have a higher total work burden than men when paid and unpaid work is combined.

On March 7, 2018, Data2X launched a new report –“Invisible No More? A Methodology and Policy Review of How Time Use Surveys Measure Unpaid Work” –  with 18 case studies of countries that have started harnessing time use (TU) surveys to measure unpaid work and generate policy change regarding many issues relevant to social development. This is, in turn, making the world look at the tangible value of unpaid care and household work.

The report defines unpaid care and household work as work done by people to take care of their households and others – everyday unsung chores like cooking, cleaning, caring for children, the ill, and the elderly, and many other important tasks.

So many women among us are super women, literally. They do the jobs of cooks, cleaners, drivers, nurses, tuition teachers, psychological counsellors. They manage homes, finances and relationships. Any study of geriatrics shows that it is mostly, if not always, daughters who can be seen serving old parents and even parents-in-law.

TU surveys are important tools to understand where we, as members of the society, spend our most valuable asset – time. TU surveys, as the aforementioned report states, are quantitative summaries of how people spend their time over a specific period and how much time is spent doing each activity. These surveys help collect data that can be used to improve economic and social policies and have been used to advocate for policies that reduce the care burden, including expanding care for preschool children, elderly people, and people with disabilities. They inform and promote child protection policies by highlighting child labour and promoting broader child welfare systems. They help countries better value the contribution of unpaid care work to an economy, relative to GDP. Once we know who is spending time doing what in a society, countries can drive public campaigns to promote shared responsibilities in the home.

Today, we are celebrating International Women’s Day. And these issues can no longer be avoided. In rural areas, the load of carrying water still disproportionately falls on the women of the world because men, traditionally, do work that gets financial support for the family. But imagine if the women in rural Pakistan started charging for carrying the water back home. After all, this disparity does not only cost women time but also energy, and caloric requirements of water-fetchers increase – a requirement which is often not met for women. This is why now emphasis is being placed on highlighting the importance of men sharing the load of household chores with their women.

But what happens practically? The lion’s share of the food is given to the man because, hey, he is the one who earns. Managing a home, giving birth to children and then feeding them – it is a lot of unsung heroic work – one that needs to be appreciated. It’s high time.

As the Data2X report mentions, it is encouraging to see that slowly but surely, measuring reliably and comprehensively the unpaid household and care work traditionally performed by women has risen in prominence as a major challenge for official statistics.

Last year, in an encouraging initiative, the government of Sindh stood poised to adopt a policy for home-based workers (HBWs), making it the first province in the country to implement such a policy. Nonetheless, the fact remains that the list of home-based workers generally does not include the work women do at home.

Data2X’s new report mentions that in 2017, India’s Ministry of Labour and Employment’s Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Act recognising women’s time spent in care work, went into effect. Such policies are needed in all developing countries.

The time has come that not just men, but also women, start recognising the immense contribution of women in the survival of a family and a society. Every woman works, even though she may not get paid for it. So let’s not dismiss their contribution, for they are the axis around which a society revolves.

Do you think women should be paid for household chores and care work?

  •  Yes, about time
  •  No, it’s part of their responsibilities

     View Results

Farahnaz Zahidi

Farahnaz Zahidi

Farahnaz is a writer and editor, and has worked as the Features Editor with The Express Tribune. Her focus is human-centric feature stories. She now writes as a freelancer, and works in the fields of communications and media training. She loves literature and traveling. She tweets as @FarahnazZahidi. Her work can be seen at chaaidaani.wordpress.com/

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AKU play ‘Main Bhool Gaya’ highlights dementia problem

Published: January 31, 2018
Plays like these are integral in raising awareness and educating society about the care of the elderly and creating a more inclusive society. PHOTO: COURTESY AKU

Plays like these are integral in raising awareness and educating society about the care of the elderly and creating a more inclusive society. PHOTO: COURTESY AKU

KARACHI: Dialogues interspersed with laughter from the audience at Aga Khan University’s packed auditorium on Monday while watching a play on dementia. Watching attentively, there were many moments of silence where audience found itself relating to the pain of having seen a loved one go through the ordeal of dementia.

The play, ‘Main Bhool Gaya’, was created by Patronus Theatrics, which is a production group run by students and faculty of AKU. It was aimed at raising awareness about dementia and the story showcased a family’s struggle in caring for an elderly father suffering from the disease.

Dementia is a disease that mostly affects the elderly, but can also be triggered due to other factors or ailments. It can often go unnoticed by family members and health professionals in Pakistan. Often, the signs of dementia are misconstrued as being ‘a normal part of ageing’.

Patients of dementia forget not just words, but a sense of time and whether they are in the past or in the present. As it is a progressive disease, the patient starts forgetting basic physical functions overtime.

While it is painful for the patient, it is equally difficult for the family and caretakers who often do not understand how to handle the situation. The play portrayed how a family struggled to tackle the issue, particularly the daughter who was most sincere in her service to her aging father.

AKU Department of Family Medicine Associate Professor Dr Saniya R Sabzwari was the executive producer and wrote the script, along with Kumael Azhar and Ibrahim Sajid. At the end of the play, she expressed the importance of spreading awareness about dementia.

“Humourous moments have been added to the play to give the audience a breather,” said Dr Sabzwari, explaining that the topic of dementia can be depressing.

The play was directed by Sunil Shanker with Maeen Abbas as the student director and Kaleem Ahmed as the student producer. The actors received a thunderous applause at the end, particularly Azhar, who acted as Colonel Haidar, a man who began to forget who he is, yet was kept company by a younger version of himself in his world of alternative realities.

Dementia, as the play highlighted, is not just about ageing, but is a disease that needs to be understood, as does the plight of both the patients and the caretakers. Plays like this are integral in raising awareness and educating society about the care of the elderly and creating a more inclusive society.

https://tribune.com.pk/story/1622135/1-aku-play-main-bhool-gaya-highlights-dementia-problem/

Knowing the perpetrator of Child Sexual Abuse

 http://tns.thenews.com.pk/knowing-perpetrator/#.WqJhO-hubIW

There is no single profile for a perpetrator of child sexual abuse

Knowing the perpetrator

He is a normal-looking person, leading a seemingly normal life. His eyes are not crazed. He is not unkempt. He has a job and has normal social interactions. There is no apparent sign of a mental disorder. Yet a dark secret lurks behind the shadows — he is a child sexual abuser. There is no formulaic profile that fits a perpetrator of child sexual abuse. There is no way even an adult can identify him or her, leave alone a child. Seven-year-old Zainab of Kasur fell prey to one such felon whose crime remained invisible till Zainab was found, albeit too late.

As Pakistan grapples in the wake of this shocking incident, it is time to raise awareness not just about the crime but also about the criminal who is often imperceptible.

“There is no single profile for a perpetrator of child sexual abuse because not every child sexual abuser is a pedophile. Pedophilia is a disorder and a specific sexual preference; it is a sickness,” says Dr Asha Bedar, clinical psychologist, trainer and researcher, who has worked extensively with cases of child sexual abuse.

As Pakistan grapples in the wake of this shocking incident, it is time to raise awareness not just about the crime but also about the criminal who is often imperceptible.

In her professional experience, Bedar has seen that many perpetrators are not pedophiles. “They can be very seemingly normal and functional people who have no diagnosed mental illness. They can be respected members of the society. They can be popular in social circles, hard to detect and harder to believe to be sexual predators of children. This makes it doubly tough for children to identify them as well.”

About pedophiles, Dr Uroosa Talib, Psychiatrist and Head of Medical Services, Karwan-e-Hayat Hospital, says that they are not recognisable by appearance, speech or demeanour. “To get to the child, they develop a step by step plan. They first observe how they can build a rapport with the child. These are sharp, brutal, cruel people who will go to any length to get what they want.”

Among the celebrities who have courageously spoken up about being survivors of child sexual abuse is female actor, Nadia Jamil, who has used the platform of social media to draw attention to the issue, and toward other victims like Kainat Batool.

Jamil echoes the view of experts that there is no set profile of such a perpetrator of child sexual abuse, or a rapist. “Any man could potentially sexually abuse or molest a child. Rich men have raped and will. Poor men have raped and will. Literate and illiterate men have raped and will. Until you deal with violent and domineering stereotypes created by patriarchy, men will continue to abuse,” she says, sharing her views with TNS.

Read also: Talking point

“Pedophilia is a disease. True pedophiles are attracted sexually to pre-pubescent children in general. The urges and reasons behind the act of abuse may be different between a pedophile and non-pedophile abuser but the danger is the same — being aroused by a child,” she says, adding that not all abusers are men.

Dr Talib says the commonest emotional trauma that leads to personality disorders is child sexual abuse, even if the impact remains only as a suppressed memory or is clouded by denial. “This is one of the most difficult traumas to ever get over. The victims, in turn, can become perpetrators, and often use sex for power. Their morality changes.”

Earlier this week, the Women’s Action Forum (WAF) sent recommendations to the State, as well as to the National Commission on the Status of Women (NCSW); one of these is to conduct psychological and psychiatric evaluations of those convicted of sexual abuse and rape, including of minors.

Bedar also says that research shows that the numbers of girls and boys sexually abused is almost the same. “But due to years of social conditioning boys internalise the idea that they can protect themselves; they do not want to accept their vulnerability. Gender dynamics and abuse have a very strong connection,” she says, adding that socially generated ideas of masculinity make the boys think that ‘if I can’t be a victim than I must have been a part of it’.

Thus, many male victims grow up telling themselves that they must have consented to it, especially if the abuser was a woman. “Boys are also more vulnerable in some ways as they are outdoors more often and parents allow sons to be with strangers like drivers or helpers more readily compared to daughters.”

Evidence suggests that child sexual abuse and rape is linked to gender-based violence in general. “Strong gender role socialisation, power dynamics, myths about gender and rape, lack of strong sanctions and strong male peer support for masculinity and role modelling” are some of the dynamics Bedar feels need to be looked into.

Experts agree that the core to the solution is making the children more aware but parents are a big part of this equation. “Parents need to have a relationship and connectedness with their children that their child can come and share not just successes but also failures, so that if anything like this happens that makes the child feel embarrassed, he or she can still share it with their parents and their parents believe them,” says Dr Talib. “Giving a child the concept of religious boundaries can actually work positively. This also helps them understand the concept of good and bad touch with keeping religious sensitivities in mind. Teach your children rights over their self and the dignity of their bodies.”

Jamil says she would be wary of strange men paying too much attention to a child. “We have to teach our children to be vigilant and to protect themselves and others. Warn them. Keep an eye on them and pray hard. And we have to change the way we educate ourselves and our kids. Till the state invests in the right people…it’s up to us. One child at a time. We cannot afford to stop or give up. We will not give up.”

Obstacles to information

 http://tns.thenews.com.pk/obstacles-information/#.WqJhZ-hubIU

One must be determined and ready to follow up information requests and understand it can take months before one gets something substantive

Obstacles to information

Experts have given laws that allow citizens the Right To Information (RTI) the title ‘Sunshine Laws’ because under the glaring light of the sun nothing misses you, and under the RTI laws, the performance of those holding public offices is exposed to public scrutiny.

Yet Pakistani citizens often find too many obstacles in their path when they attempt to exercise their right to information, even though Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the UN General Assembly states that it is a basic human right to be able to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media.

If Pakistani people begin to tap into this reservoir of power, the collective narrative could change forever, and transparency and accountability could become realities.

“RTI laws are made for the people. These are unique laws because they empower the common man; that is why those in echelons of power do not like them,” says Dr Raza Gardezi, an RTI activist, adding that those holding public offices are forced to legislate these laws but they often do not let them succeed.

Activists from civil society have been pushing for practical implementation of these laws but their efforts meet a dead end due to bad governance and resistance from political quarters.

“The laws are there on paper but are not operationalised. The discourse would change if RTI laws are implemented,” says Zahid Abdullah, Transparency and Inclusion Specialist with Trust for Democratic Education and Accountability (TDEA), citing the landmark Right of Access to Information Act 2017 passed by the National Assembly in October 2017, months after the Senate unanimously passed the Right of Access to Information Bill 2017, granting citizens access to the record of public authorities.

The Sindh Assembly passed the Sindh Transparency and the Right to Information Bill 2016 in March 2017. According to this new law, it was made mandatory upon the government to establish the Sindh Information Commission within 100 days. Months later, activists and organisations like Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN) raised their voice against the fact that the government of Sindh had failed to do so.

Likewise in Punjab, the Right to Transparency and Information Act was passed in 2013. Perhaps so effectively did the designated information commissioners play their role for the first tenure that after that, commissioners have not been appointed for the second tenure, explains Abdullah. “A mandatory part of the law is ‘proactive disclosure’ of information on part of the government. However, the general assumption is that it is always the citizens who should ask for the information. To become capable of this proactive disclosure of information, the concerned offices need technological know-how and financial support from the government, which they often don’t get,” he adds.

Read also: Resource for journalists

In his opinion, the role of commissioners of the Information Commission is key and part of their duties is to sensitise government officials as well as advise the government. “They also have to launch awareness-raising campaigns, media campaigns, and provide guidelines to the public as to how they can exercise their rights.”

Other than lack of awareness, political resistance, and an absence of the required information commissions and Public Information Officers (PIO), there are other reasons that hinder the path of citizens aiming to extract information. “One of the main problems is inadequate set-ups for RTI applications and processing,” says Summaiya Zaidi, a lawyer.

Activists from civil society have been pushing for practical implementation of these laws but their efforts meet a dead end due to bad governance and resistance from political quarters. However, Gardezi still encourages citizens to continue asking for information as this is their right. “The operationality of these laws is still undergoing teething pains. But the more people exercise their right, the more those in public offices will have to share the information under pressure. It is demand and supply.”

In 2014, Bolo Bhi, a not-for-profit geared towards advocacy, policy and research in the area of government transparency among others, filed three Freedom of Information requests under the FOI 2002 Ordinance with the Ministry of Information Technology, Pakistan Telecommunications (MOITT). The requests were filed under the Freedom of Information Ordinance (FOI) 2002. “It took months before some information was obtained. At first, we didn’t hear back, so we followed it up with letters to the federal ombudsperson,” says Farieha Aziz, Co-Founder, Bolo Bhi.

She and her team were given some information but not all. “The exclusion clause of the information act was used to deny us access to some of the information. We made the argument based on our legal interpretation of the FOI Act’s exclusion clause,” says Aziz.

While ultimately the Bolo Bhi team had some success in gaining partial information, the average Pakistani is neither aware nor motivated enough to pursue the legal course to get information. “What’s important with RTI requests is that you must be very specific with the question you ask and the information you seek, and clear on who to ask — who has the authority and mandate to provide the information,” advises Aziz.

“You must also be determined and ready to follow up the requests and understand that it can take months before you get something substantive. You might get some information but not all. Don’t let that deter you. Use what you manage to get and then push on to get more. This is a process. You’ve got to be in it for the long haul,” she adds.

Why must women get an ID card?

The reasons for women lagging behind men in the race to get registered as citizens are many, and in rural areas the factors multiply

Why get an ID card?

“Traditionally, in our village, people didn’t feel it was necessary for a woman to have a national identity card (NIC),” she says. Men are the ones who traditionally own property, get preference in education, and have ambitions to be financially independent, not women. But some ten years ago, Kaneez found an incentive to rush to get her NIC made — the Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP) that gave her the hope of a monthly stipend.

Today, at the age of 41, Kaneez is thankful she got the NIC, as none of the employers in Karachi want to hire her as house help till she shows them her NIC. “Once we moved to Karachi, I realised that to get my daughters admitted in school I needed to get their B Forms made.”

The reasons for women lagging behind men in the race to get registered as citizens are many, and in rural areas the factors multiply.

If women do not have an identity card, they lose out on everything, says Maliha Zia Lari, lawyer and gender activist. “Without it they are not recognised by law; they officially do not exist. It has a massive impact on the personal, the social and the institutional levels.”

Without the NIC, women cannot reach out for any legal protection, their ability do anything on their own is curtailed; they cannot hope for independence. They cannot own or inherit property, and also cannot hope for insurance or be the beneficiary of any welfare initiative, as Lari explains. “Nadra requires a family certificate now for everything, so even the husband not having an ID card poses a problem if and when the wife and children want to get registered. Child marriage cannot be mitigated if a girl without an ID card is married off as she may be a minor for all we know.”

The reasons for women lagging behind men in the race to get registered as citizens are many, and in rural areas the factors multiply. “One of the issues is fulfilling the legal requirements and documentation required for getting the CNIC. Women in rural areas often don’t have means to readily get to the towns, are illiterate, have restrictions on mobility due to traditional customs and cannot travel alone [due to security reasons or family restrictions], and male members of their families don’t always support them to get to offices of the National Database & Registration Authority (Nadra),” says Ali Akbar from the Association for Water, Applied Education & Renewable Energy (AWARE) in district Tharparkar.

Read also: The cultural blockade

Akbar shares instances where women who did not have NICs were exploited and robbed of their rights. “Brothers and fathers who were not willing to give the rightful share of wealth to a sister or a daughter would, to close the revenue department’s record, get the tehsildar to record the statement of a couple of villagers mentioning that Mr so and so has no sister/daughters or that she has died or she is not claiming her right, and thus this male member of the family has the right to hold this property. But now the Nadra record is computerised and the woman has to be present and her statement recorded before the magistrate or registrar for any change in the legal ownership of property. The NIC, then, is a basic pillar for the empowerment of any woman.”

However, the awareness about the importance of being a registered citizen is growing among Pakistani women. Mahnaz Rahman, Director, Sindh chapter of the Aurat Foundation, says the projects by AF aim to incentivise it in many ways for women. “For example, we tell Muslim women that you need it to go for Hajj otherwise you cannot get a passport to travel for the pilgrimage. There is increased realisation about this among the lower income and middle income strata as well where the women are working to support their families,” she says.

Currently, AF is working on a project aimed at women from non-Muslim communities, encouraging them to get CNICs and in turn to exercise their right to cast the vote.

The BISP has had a positive impact in encouraging women like Kaneez to apply for NICs. “Our surveys show that numbers of women who have registered for the NIC has increased exponentially,” says Hasrat Prakash, Field Supervisor, BISP, in Mithi and Chachro, district Tharparkar, who adds that women are not just going for the ID card but are actually opting for the Smart National Identity Card (SNIC), Pakistan’s first national electronic identity card. The SNIC contains a data chip and many security features.

“BISP now requires biometric verification, which incentivised making of these SNICs. The incentive, of course, is the money stipend. The best part is that more women are now included in the voters’ list, and that more people are registering daughters at birth for the B Form, especially the eldest daughter of each family,” says Prakash.

As mobility still remains a real issue for women, facilitation efforts are being made by various organisations to help them get registered. “If in any locality we find one hundred or more women who need to get registered, Nadra’s mobile van comes there to help us and register women on the spot. There are holistic efforts by the civil society, aid agencies, Nadra and BISP among others, and the situation is comparatively better,” says Rahman, but also adds that more campaigns and efforts are needed for social mobilisation.

“Registering can be a tiresome process and if the people are not highly motivated why would they give up on a week’s daily wages to get an identity card?” says Lari, adding that “the most important thing that needs to be done is make the registration free as well as easier.”

http://tns.thenews.com.pk/get-id-card/#.Wi-XQt-WbIU

Childhood Interrupted – Child Marriage in Pakistan

Published: June 14, 2017
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While there is an increased awareness about the concept of child marriage, much needs to be done at grass-root level. PHOTO COURTESY: Haseeb Siddiqui

While there is an increased awareness about the concept of child marriage, much needs to be done at grass-root level. PHOTO COURTESY: Haseeb Siddiqui

KARACHI: When Safiya was married off to a man, some 20 years older than her, she was barely 13. Her body frame was slim. She was still gaining height and had no idea about the physical demands of a marriage or motherhood. Within just three months, this resident of an underprivileged part of Karachi was expecting.

“My brother was married to my husband’s sister. It was a watta satta (exchange marriage). They waited only until the day I started menstruating after which I was married off,” said Safiya.

The birth of her first child, born premature, was an ordeal for Safiya. She received several pints of blood for transfusion as she was anaemic and she barely survived. Today, Safiya is a 16-year-old mother of two. She laughs when anyone asks whether she even prepared for the marriage and for the responsibilities of parenting.

“Does it matter now whether I was prepared for it or not? Girls have to do what they are told to do. In our social strata, this is just how it is. We are like cattle. We are born, married off to bear a child and eventually one day, we die.”

In Pakistan, according to lawyer and gender activist Maliha Zia Lari, the legal marriageable age for girls and boys in Sindh is 18, while it is 18 for boys and 16 for girls in the rest of the country.

“A marriage with a female child under the age of 16 is punishable under Section-498B of the Pakistan Penal Code 1860. In Sindh, punishments extend to girls aged 17 under Sindh Child Marriage Restraint Act,” she continued while shedding light on the legal aspects around child marriage in Pakistan.

Pakistan has recently outlawed child marriage and toughened penalties for those guilty of the crime in an effort to crack down on the practice estimated to affect one in five girls in the country. A minimum five years in prison that may go up to 10 years is the punishment, in addition to a fine of up to Rs1 million. A legislation passed by the National Assembly (NA) in February 2017, also bans forced marriage involving women from minority groups.

For a second time, the NA’s Standing Committee on Religious Affairs in the following month unanimously rejected a draft ‘Child Marriage Restraint Act’ aimed at increasing the minimum legal age for marriage of a girl to 18 years from 16.

Despite the laws and surging criticism, child marriage victims like Safiya continue to endure a cycle of lifelong disadvantages and miseries.

NA panel refuses to raise minimum marriage age for girls

Pakistan is also 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. Yet, at the grass-root level, social attitudes remain static.

According to a Unicef report, State of the World’s Children 2016, at least 21 per cent Pakistani girls are married off before they turn 18. Now, this number on the ground is, of course, higher since a significant part of the populace in Pakistan remains unregistered. Therefore, they also do not show up in surveys. Almost 60 million children in Pakistan are not registered at birth – approximately 65 per cent of children in the country – according to Unicef.

Regrettably, the ramifications of underage marriages are also both physical and psychological.

Dr Azra Ahsan, a gynaecologist and consultant at the National Committee for Maternal and Neonatal Health, disagrees with the argument that a girl attains physical maturity at 18.

“All the organs of a woman including the genital tract continue to grow and mature until she is 18. The emotional maturity, however, comes much later. To me, a girl at 18 is still a child,” she stressed and added that marrying a girl at a tender age and then lumbering her with pregnancies and children is taxing her capabilities to the limits.

“Sexual relationship, pregnancy and childbirth are catastrophic for young girls. For them, a sexual relationship becomes a nightmare. Going through a pregnancy is a test of endurance even for grown-up women and one can only imagine what a burden it should be for a child girl,” said Dr Ahsan.

She maintained that when a fully grown baby tries to negotiate its way out through a small immature pelvis of a young mother, it becomes a harrowing experience for that child.

Man accused of child marriage sent into police custody for five days

“This not only results in a horrible agonising pain but can also cause pressure ischemic injuries to her genital tract and the adjoining organs. As a result, holes known as Obstetric Fistula appear between the genital tract and the urinary tract and/or the bowels. She then dribbles urine or stool constantly. The lives of young child mothers are literally nipped in the bud.”

For Samar Minallah Khan, an inspirational documentary filmmaker, a girl is forced to grow overnight into a child marriage.

“Child brides are at a risk of physical and emotional violence, and pregnancy-related complications. Depriving a child of education means perpetuating a cycle of poverty, violence and inequality. The very concept of a girl child as ‘someone else’s property’ prevents parents from investing in her future,” she said.

In Minallah’s experience, child marriages are mostly practised in the garb of culture and traditions. Once a girl child is betrothed, she becomes a property of the family that she is supposed to wed into. “There is no concept of documenting such [child] marriages. There are legal lacunas to determining the age of the child.”

Minallah’s documentaries mainly focus on culturally sanctioned forms of child marriages including ‘pait likhi’, ‘swara’, ‘vani’, ‘sang chatti’, ‘irjaai’, ‘addo baddo’ and ‘watta satta’.

“Not many urban Pakistanis know about the forms of child marriages and which is why more in-depth understanding and research needs to be carried out,” she explained. Minallah underlined that during January 2016 to May 2017; only over 35 cases of swara, vani and sang chatti were reported in the media.

Gender activist Lari wants Pakistanis to start talking more and that too openly about the impacts of child marriages in the society. “We need to emphasise that child marriages are void and not a real nikah. We need to provide economic incentives at community levels for families insisting them not to marry off their girls at a young age.”

Too young to marry: Police thwart child marriage in Khanewal

“Any action taken must be consistent, state-owned and sustainable,” she added while suggesting campaigns at schools and strategic intervention points for adults.

While there is an increased awareness about the concept of child marriage, few voices have also started making a lot of noise against it in Pakistan.

Designer Waqar J Khan and his team started one such campaign that made waves earlier this year with the hashtags #fashionforacause and #againstchildmarriages. The fashion shoot showed three girls dressed as child brides, juxtaposed alongside their photos in sportswear ready to take on the world.

“The purpose of the shoot is to build awareness about child marriage, and promote women in public spaces, especially the sports field,” said Khan.

Younger girls mean long birthing life, which is considered important in our culture. Lari feels that it is still a taboo to talk about women’s sexual and reproductive issues and the hush around the subject means that people do not actually see the human impact.

“The custom [child marriage] is linked to patriarchy, power and control. We hear statements like, older girls get too set on their ways as compared to the younger girls since the younger they are, the more adaptable she is.”

According to the gender activist, women in Pakistan witness several examples around them – their grandmothers and aunts – who were child brides and mothers and so they also think, if they were fine, what is the problem?

“There is a reluctance to see a girl as a child. She is seen as a woman as soon as she reaches puberty and thus must be married off before her sexuality becomes out of control”, complained Lari.

While there in a rising need to bring a change in the overall Pakistani mindset, Minallah thinks that stringent legislation, complemented by strong implementation was also required. Most importantly, supporting girls’ education is one of the single best investments a country can make to help poverty and prevent early marriages, she added.

“A girl who has completed her education is less likely to experience violence after marriage and have children when she herself is a child. Above all, she is more likely to be conscious and healthy,” Minallah concluded.

Preventing child marriage has a significant bearing on women’s education in the country. Therefore, it is important that the state must challenge unfair social norms strengthening child marriage by using legal and advocacy campaigning tools.

 

With additional input by Ali Rahman.

Udaari reveals Pakistan’s best kept secrets

Published: September 29, 2016
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PHOTO: Draamaz

PHOTO: Draamaz

“Watch Udaari; it is unlike any other drama,” I had said, trying to convince a friend to watch the drama. “No way! Children being abused. Don’t want to even think about it,” was the immediate response.

Brushing issues under the carpet is what we do best. A study titled ‘The state of Pakistan’s children 2015’ by the Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child (SPARC) states 10 cases of child sexual abuse took place every day in 2015, bringing the total to 3,768 cases last year. These are registered cases. Any educated and realistic guess will tell us that to get the real number it would have to be multiplied manifold. Of these, a lot of abuse cases are incestuous. Communal living may have many advantages as a support system but also exposes unassuming children, and even grown-ups, to the dangers of sexual abuse and rape.

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What Udaari has done is remarkable. It was not because Ahsan Khan played out a difficult character with unexpected brilliance, and that Samia Mumtaz played Sajju so convincingly that everyone who saw the drama wanted to bring her and Zebo home and protect them. It was a brilliant play, well scripted and directed, and technically could have been more nuanced and the characters more layered, but this is not a review of Udaari. This is a look in the mirror. And Udaari became that mirror.

As a journalist who has worked on gender rights and sexual and reproductive health issues, I have met victims of rape of all kinds, including victims of marital rape and sex workers who were raped. Rape is never a laughing matter. Whenever someone cracks a joke about rape, I think of the times when these jokes may not have bothered me because I had not met the butts of those jokes and heard their stories in person. I had not seen the scars, both physical and non-physical, that acts of cowardice and weakness such as domestic violence, sexual abuse and rape leave behind. Watching Udaari made me think of some unfortunate souls, victims and others survivors.

When those children in Kasur, who were sexually abused by the gang who made a living out of selling videos of the acts and blackmailed them, saw Udaari with their families, what must it be like for them? What was the reaction of viewers who saw Udaari in groups or in isolation in Pakistan’s many homes where traders of the flesh reside? The woman in Tharparkar who was gang-raped some two years ago, and got justice after I wrote her story that prompted a suo moto action by the chief justice – what was she thinking when she saw Udaari? The play hit home with the audiences. But it must have been an unforgettable watch for those who have directly or indirectly been exposed to such despicable acts.

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In 1980 an Indian film, Insaf ka Tarazu, starring Zeenat Aman was initially met with negative responses for being too bold. Rape was something that was not meant to be depicted so openly. It opened certain shut doors. Udaari has managed a much bolder theme more than two decades later in Pakistan, deftly and without relying on the objectification of women as sex objects. It has succeeded in making sure that the take-home message remains that one who has been raped need not be a victim but also be a survivor, instead of the focus being on Zebo’s youth or beauty. This is no mean feat.

But perhaps the biggest contribution of any article, news clipping or talk show, or any drama like Udaari is daring to make taboo and hushed up topics like child sexual abuse open to discussion on a dinner table, at work place and on social media. Let us stop pretending that these evils don’t exist in our society, and that too closer to us than we think. Recognising an issue is the first step to solving it.