Sexual violence, abuse and child marriages in Pakistan

International Alert recently held two consultations in Pakistan which brought together women and experts from diverse backgrounds to discuss the tradition of early and forced marriages and its link with different forms of sexual violence.

The consultations, which took place at the provincial level in Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (KPK), were part of our ‘Creating Safer Districts for Women’ project and were organised jointly with We Can Pakistan (WECAN) and South Asia Partnership Pakistan (SAP-PK). They were attended by various NGOs, as well as minority groups, lawyers, politicians, religious leaders, doctors and social workers.

After the local context of sexual and Gender-Based Violence (GBV) was outlined, the discussions emphasized the need for a stronger commitment by the government and law-enforcing agencies to end violence against women, and highlighted the fact that existing laws required both amendment and more effective implementation.

A medical specialist from KPK drew upon her 20 years of experience in working with victims of early child marriages to explain the associated health risks and psychological effects. These include the risk of sexually transmitted diseases and other physical diseases, and complications related to premature births and repeated pregnancies.

A legal expert assessed in detail the laws and provisions in the constitution concerning violence against women in all the provinces in Pakistan. He also described any amendments currently being considered for these laws in the provincial or national assembly.

The consultation in Punjab also included testimonies of ‘change makers’ from Muzaffaragh and Dera Ghazi Khan – former victims of the customary practice of early marriages who are now advocating against the tradition among their family and wider community through the support of the ‘Creating Safer Districts for Women’ project.

There was also participation from the political arena in the two consultations. Politicians engaged with the communities and professional experts during the sessions and extended support on the agreed action plans.