July 1st, 2021
By Rehan Piracha
Nighat Orakzai, one of the senior-most women legislators in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, has submitted a bill on child marriages in the provincial assembly.
However, Nighat Orakzai, who was been elected four times to the provincial assembly since 2002, speaks about how the ruling Pakistan Tehrik Insaf provincial government has stonewalled progressive legislation on women and children proposed by her in the last eight years.
In an exclusive interview with Voicepk.net, the female legislator from Pakistan Peoples Party dilates upon the need for curbing custom of child marriages in the province. “Child and underage marriages is a serious issue in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. I have seen many educated parents marry off their minor daughters in view of customs, property and familial ties,” she says.
“I have seen many of these underage married girls face serious health issues,” she adds. Orakzai says her bill against child marriages sets the age of marriage at 18 years. “Presently, there is no bar on child marriages in the province and in some instances, girls as young as seven years have been married off,” she explains.
According to the draft bill, Orakzai says that whoever, being a male above 18 years of age, contracts a child marriage shall be punished with rigorous imprisonment which may extend to three years but shall not be less than two years and shall be liable to fine.
Under Section 4 of the bill, whoever performs, conducts, directs, brings about or in any way facilitates any child marriage shall be punished with rigorous imprisonment which may extend to three years but shall not be less than two years and shall also be liable to fine, unless he proves that he had reasons to believe that the marriage was not a child marriage.
“The bill also proposes sentence up to three years imprisonment for parents or guardians committing the offense of child marriage of their daughters and sons,” she says.
Asked whether she would be able to garner enough support from fellow legislators over the bill, Orakzai says she is not that hopeful given her past experience but still it will help highlight the issue of child marriages in the province.
Nighat Orakzai regrets that the ruling PTI government has continuously stonewalled her efforts towards bringing legislation on issues related to children and women in the province. “The government has been continuously telling me that they are bringing legislation on child marriages but no draft bill has been tabled in the assembly. I hope my private member’s bill on child marriages will provide the government an opportunity to bring their own legislation,” Nighat Orakzai says.
The PPP legislator recalls that the government had rejected her KP Acid & Crime bill saying that they were already working on a draft bill in this regard. “The Social Welfare Department has yet to present a draft Acid and Crime Bill in the assembly despite passage of two and half years,” she adds.
Nighat Orakzai points out the transgender community is the most vulnerable and marginalised community in the province. “Members of the transgender community are murdered and assaulted but have not been given protection at all,” she says.
The PPP legislator says that she had helped pass a resolution in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly in 2018 for the adoption of a federal bill on the protection of the transgender community. “However, the provincial government is ignoring the transgender community and has done nothing towards legislation to protect them,” she says. “Many from the transgender community have turned addict in view of their hopeless situation,” she adds.
Nighat Orakzai says recent legislation on child abuse and violence against women faced problems in their implementation. “Just a single shelter home has been established for child abuse victims,” she reveals. “Similarly, the government has yet to provide budgetary support for the implementation of the recently passed law on violence against women,” she adds.
The PPP legislator also laments the fact that women legislators elected on reserved seats are still not seen on equal footing with their directly-elected fellows in the assembly. “The women legislators on reserved seats have great trouble securing development funds,” she says.
Orakzai is in favour of allowing women legislators on reserved seats to be directly elected from constituencies as they have gained capacity and skills as lawmakers in the last two decades.
The MPA also accused the provincial government of bulldozing legislation in the assembly, a feeling shared by all opposition members. “Whenever, an opposition member brings a bill on public issues, the treasury rejects it saying we are working on it and eventually do nothing on it,” she laments.
However, Nighat Orakzai sees a ray of hope in the Women Caucus of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly. “Dr Sumera Shams, the new chairperson of the caucus, is trying to bridge the gulf between the opposition and treasury members to bring them on the same page on important issues relating to women empowerment,” she says. Orakzai says she recently attended a meeting of the caucus after a gap of three years.
The PPP legislator hopes that the assembly would take up legislation relating to women’s empowerment in the province. “Firstly, there should a headway on the law relating to women’s right to inheritance as thousands of cases are pending in courts,” she says. “We already have an ombudsperson on workplace harassment in the province who is doing a wonderful job, Orakzai adds. However, she feels that the law on harassment needs to be beefed up in view of problems faced by girls and women in society.