Amid the sadness and sorrows of a summer where children's rights have been ignored, neglected, and trampled upon in the world's conflict zones, there is a glimmer of hope.
In the Pakistan province of Sindh, child marriage has been outlawed with the most extensive legislation yet to dissuade patriarchs from marrying off their children as teenage brides.
And now in an important step to follow up on this new law, a child marriage free zone will be created in Pakistan by the education and girls' rights organization, Idara-e-Taleem-
The new law, which makes marriage illegal under eighteen years old, stipulates a three year sentence on the husband who marries an under-age child. Fathers who sell their children off in marriage will also be subject to a minimum of two years imprisonment. Guardians and family friends who marry off adolescent members of their family are also to be punished as a result of the old Child Marriage Restraint Act, first passed 85 years ago in 1929.
Today, over 10 million children across the world are married off before they finish their school days. The rate of child marriage has not been falling fast enough to encourage more girls to complete their education, and in some countries like Iraq and Pakistan, Muslim extremists have ruled that current laws be weakened to make child marriage easier.
In April, Iraq legislators urged that child marriage be permitted at eight years and in Pakistan the council for Muslim ideology called for the removal of age limits.
But the new move in Pakistan's Sindh province to outlaw child marriage in such a forceful way, with such new enforcement mechanisms, is a triumph for campaigners who have been exposing the perils of forced marriage and of schools girls being married off when they should still be in education.
It represents a significant progress too for the child marriage free zone movement, which started in Bangladesh and will soon have more child marriage free zones in Pakistan. Here, girls are encouraged to come together to resist pressure upon them to leave school and be married off before their school days are over. Here, girls have clubbed together to tell even their fathers that they will not be married off against their will. And in the dozen or so Bangladeshi zones, great successes have been recorded as a result of girls coming together to support each other.
In the next few weeks, modeled on this record of achievement when a similar zone is to be created in Pakistan, Baela Raza Jamil, Director of Idara-e-Taleem-o-Aagahi (
Child marriage free zones, encouraged by Plan International, are spreading in popularity throughout not just the Indian sub continent, but across the world. There is now talk of creating child marriage free zones in countries from Tanzania and Malawi to Ethiopia and Nigeria. This is one very positive step when as Girls Not Brides, the ground-breaking umbrella organisation against early marriage has made clear, it happens alongside proper policing of the law, registration of girls' birth dates, and educational work in schools. All of these actions contribute to the ending of the practice of child marriage.
Ending child marriages is one way of ensuring girls get the education they deserve, and to stand up for the right of girls to schooling as championed by A World at School's campaign. But of course the way that child marriage was ended most successfully in the West was when school was made compulsory, and when the parent of any girl who was absent from school was pursued by the attendance officers, and eventually making it a crime to fail to get their child to school. Making education fully compulsory and policing it is the next stage in the battle for girls rights. The new petition #UpForSchool is calling globally for every child to be in school and learning - if you have not yet signed please add your name now: www.upforschool.org