LAHORE: A number of parliamentarians from two major political parties resolved to support increasing the minimum age of marriage for girls in Punjab from 16 to 18 years. A relevant amendment act is pending in the Punjab Assembly whereas the province of Sindh has taken the lead and approved amendment legislation back on 28 Feb 2013. This was briefed during a Webinar discussion with parliamentarian on “ending child marriage in Punjab.” Bargad a leading youth development organization held the Webinar in which the panelists included MNA Romina KhurshidAlam and members of provincial Assembly (MPAs) Sadia Sohail Rana, Sumaira Bukhari, BushraAnjum Butt, RaheelaKhadim Hussain and MuneebulHaqparticipated. Representatives of media and civil society and youth organizations also attended the meeting. Noor Imran moderated its proceedings with Salma Butt who was resourceperson for the Webinar. MNA Romina KhurshidAlam said that child marriages deprive girls the right to education and is an obstacle in nurturing educated, healthy and prosperous families. She appreciated the role of Bargad in formulating the youth policies with all four provincial governments and stressed on the role of the policy in curbing child marriage. She also appreciated efforts of the civil society and said that the child marriage is source of prolonging the cycle of poverty especially in rural areas and Pakistan has already one of the highest malnutrition burdens in the world. Stunting, wasting and micronutrient deficiencies are endemic in the country. MPA Sadia Sohail Rana told that the government is determined to pursue this progressive legislation and it’s only a matter of time that Punjab will set minimum age of marriage for girls at 18 years. She also stressed on the fact that it this revision is an absolute need because of the high maternal and neonatal mortality rate in Pakistan. In Pakistan, Pregnancy and childbirth related complications are the main causes of death for mothers aged 15 to 19. Maternal mortality for females under age 20 is 242 deaths for every 100,000 births. 116 children under one year of age die for 1,000 births by women under age 20 (PDHS 2006-7) versus 75 per 1,000 for the children of women who give birth between the ages of 20 to 29. MPA Sumaira Bukhari said that women parliamentarians from all political parties are united on the issue of child marriage. We will ensure that obsolete laws are revoked so that girls and families actively participate in development of the nation. She also proposed dedicating a day in the Punjab Assembly to discuss this issue and move the legislation forward. MPA BushraAnjum Butt said that we need to include women in economy and social development. We have to abandon harmful customary practices to girls and increase the minimum marriage age. She agreed with her fellow legislators and also emphasized on how a girl loses her childhood when married and has to be responsible for so many other new relationships that her mind is not yet matured for. She also suggested increasing the role of local bodies in the implementation of this law as Union Councils have a direct interaction with the community. MPA RaheelaKhadim said as many as 21% of girls are married before the age of 18 years and 3% before the age of 15 years in Pakistan. We need to change this culture in the light of teachings and practices of Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah who even called child marriage a ‘social evil’. She suggested inclusion of the clergy in the debate and said that they can help creating awareness about this evil with a wider reach. MPA MuneebulHaqadded that this is not just a women’s issue and as a male MPA he will support this legislation in the Assembly and in the media and will do whatever is required for this amendment. Many students from different universities also joined the webinar including University of the Punjab, Lahore; College for Women University; Kinnaird College for Women; COMSATS; The Gift University, Gujranwala; BahauddinZikriya University, Multan; Minhaj University Lahore; University of Education, Lahore; University of Engineering and Technology, Lahore; Government College University; Queen Marry College; University of Central Punjab Lahore and University of Sargodha. The parliamentarians were also presented with results of an online petition initiated by a 14 years girl. Around 7500 persons have endorsed this petition so far asking the parliamentarians to increase the minimum age of marriage for girls in Punjab from 16 to 18 years. She aims to collect 50,000 signatures before presenting this to the Punjab Assembly. ENDS.