International conventions declare that child marriage is a violation of human rights because it denies children the right to decide when and who to marry. A country like Pakistan, which is a signatory to the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and has ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), needs to align its local laws regarding child marriage, as both conventions categorically state that appropriate measures will be taken to abolish traditional practices prejudicial to the health of children, such as child marriage.
The evils of child marriage are many. For starters, it cruelly snatches the childhood away and thrusts a child into adulthood well before her time. It directly threatens the health and well being of young girls as complications from pregnancy and childbirth are cited as the main cause of death among adolescent girls aged 15-19. As the numbers of girls who are married as children grows, the numbers of children bearing children will increase and deaths among young girls will rise, further deteriorating the child and maternal mortality rates.
In the case of Pakistan, religion is also cited as a reason for child marriages as it is considered advisable to marry girls off soon after they reach puberty. This, however, is just an excuse. Medical science tells us that puberty only marks the beginning of a gradual transition into adulthood. Religion also asks its followers to educate their children and to follow the path of moderation and if any attention is paid to these other two recommendations, child marriage would become a distant dream.
Girls’ vulnerability to child marriage increases during humanitarian crises when family and social structures are disrupted and many parents marry off their daughters to bring the family some income or to offer the girl some sort of protection. Humanitarian workers noticed a surge in child marriages during the internally displaced persons crisis brought on by the floods of 2010 and 2011.
The child marriage issue is central to many development goals. By dealing with just the child marriage issue, governments can work towards closing the gap in the Millennium Development Goals of eradication of extreme poverty, achievement of universal primary education, promotion of gender equality, reduction in child mortality, improvement in maternal health and better ways to combat HIV/AIDS.
Our own government needs to start a multi-pronged strategy to deal with this issue. First, all provincial governments need to be fully committed to criminalising child marriage and streamlining local laws according to the CEDAW and the CRC. They not only need to invest in female child education but also must invest in campaigns to encourage the maximum number of parents to enroll their children in schools. Contraceptives should be easily and readily available and most importantly, decent employment opportunities should be made available for both parents. A family that can feed and educate its children is less likely to marry them off.
First published in The Express Tribune
Martyrs are valued anywhere in the world because of their valour, courage and bravery. In Pakistan, they are valued because they help in setting the public image right, secure votes and feed our national sadism that responds only to death, misery and destruction.
Let us start with political parties. Most political parties, barring various factions of the Muslim League, boast about their ‘shaheeds’. Everyone mourns the death of their party members but is perhaps secretly thrilled by it as well because we, as a nation, practice politics on the basis of the number of shaheeds per party. The Pakistan People’s Party, with the ‘shahadat’ of two former heads of the government, is at the top of the food chain and has won elections by asking their voters to atone for their leaders’ death by voting them into the assemblies. Others do it to lesser degrees of success. Case in point: every transgression of the ANP’s leadership is countered by tales of personal losses incurred by people like Mian Iftikhar Hussain. Mian Iftikhar’s loss of his only son and nephew to terrorism is extremely tragic but it cannot counter the irresponsible behavior of people such as Minister Ghulam Ahmed Bilour who announced a bounty for the man behind the anti-Islam video, for short-term political gains.
The armed forces also need martyrs to feed the bogey of the ‘other’ and justify their existence as well as the huge drain they are on the country’s meager resources. Ever since the war against home-grown terrorists began, nothing worked as well for them as coffins shrouded with the national flag, images of children left behind by the fathers, mothers mourning deaths of their sons and father stoically professing that they would be happy and proud if they lose their other son for the country.
One martyr who does not get either the same amount of reverence or the same coverage in our media is the much-maligned policeman; the policeman, who gets killed every time a group of terrorist or miscreants want to play hooky with the security of the country. In the battle for Islamabad’s red zone last week, Islamabad police came out most harmed — apart from the country’s image, that is. Not only did policemen suffer injuries — 55 policemen were wounded on September 20 alone in Islamabad — but the mob also set fire to their check posts and vehicles, destroying their records and valuable public property, which was paid for by taxpayers. The religious parties and organizations that are fed on the populist rhetoric wanted blood and wanted to march all the way to the US consulate, but it was the capital police that stopped them and perhaps helped the government in averting an international crisis. One can only shudder to think what would have happened had the mob reached the consulate. The very next day, three policemen lost their lives in Karachi when a similar mob was busy looting and burning the city, while many others got injured.
Policemen form the first line of defense against terrorism and many have lost their lives or limbs fighting them with old, outdated and inadequate weapons. They are asked to fire tear gas without proper safety equipment, sent to deal with deadly opponents under prepared and paid a lot less than other security agencies with inadequate pension plans and medical insurance. On top of that, they face public ridicule every day. Though their services are generally below par and there is much to be done to improve their performance, it is time we start honoring our police force for doing what they are doing right.
First published in The Express Tribune
Like many others, I too have had my share of peculiar supervisors. They were not entirely horrible, and I never harboured a secret desire to bodily harm them, but if someone out there is writing a book about strange bosses, I am quite confident that I will be able to contribute a full chapter on the oddities that I had to endure as a professional minion. Some bosses go from this end of the spectrum to the other in 15 seconds flat, some are slackers, some are narcissistic prima donnas and some are all that and more.
Some bosses are into over sharing. One wanted me to know how sloppy her husband is; the other – a divorced man – wanted me to know that he has scored with two girls in a day. However, it is still better than what someone I know had to endure when his boss walked into a weekly meeting wearing a T-shirt that said: “Oh Sh**, I am in Love.”
I also had a boss who preferred 20th century modes of communication. He would never respond to any email, so you would have to call him and tell him that you have written to him and would like some feedback. He would then ask you to read out the e-mail over the phone and would finally give his feedback verbally. Once you went ahead and completed the task at hand and it turned out well, he would kick you off the project and take credit for it, but if there was anything wrong with the turnout, he would go around saying he had nothing to do with it and unless you were a fan of 1980s spy movies and used to record phone conversations just for kicks, you wouldn’t have any proof that he actually gave you the go-ahead in the first place. He now has a super cushy executive post in a multilateral bank and the moral of this episode is that blaming others for botched jobs and taking credit for someone else’s work will take you far ahead in life.
Last but definitely not the least was a boss who was a Carrie Bradshaw wannabe. She would have been an asset to a magazine like Cosmopolitan but was wasted on a mainstream publication in Pakistan. She would discuss relationships, men, hair, hair products, shoes and other accessories in no particular order, which was fine by me. After all, who doesn’t love a boss who gossips with you about men and fashion? What was slightly disturbing, though, was the copious amount of time she would spend on dating websites. She was perhaps the only person I know who had shaadi.com as her homepage. Until recently, I thought she was the strangest boss ever, but then a friend texted me to say that her boss has started singing ‘Sheila ki jawani’ in the office. Can anyone top that?
After being hit by torrential rains and consequent floods that devastated the country in 2010 and 2011, one would have thought that the government of Pakistan and its people would be better prepared to deal with the rains with the arrival of monsoon this year. Considering that the monsoon hit us a little later than usual, one would have expected a better level of preparedness. Unfortunately, we see our provincial governments and municipalities still floundering and at a loss about the responses.
The extra time provided to us by Mother Nature — instead of the usual July, the rains hit us in the month of September — has not made much of a difference and if news reports are to be believed, as many as 69 rain-related deaths have been reported so far. Many more can be expected to die in the coming weeks as the critically injured will succumb to their injuries and more will perish in the rains that have been forecast for the next couple of weeks.
The National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) has stated, as late as September 9 that rivers are not expected to flood but, inland flooding can and already has, wreaked enough havoc in some areas. Cases of roofs collapsing because of rains and electrocution in urban centres have already been reported. The deaths may not be directly caused by the flooding but it is directly related to poor preparedness for a natural calamity. Similarly, landslides in the mountainous areas also cause rain-related accidents. We may not have experienced river flooding as yet but cases of inland flooding have been reported in Lahore, Rahimyar Khan, Hyderabad and Quetta. Inland flooding occurs when rain in an urban area exceeds the sewer system’s drainage capacity, as a result of which, water accumulates in the surrounding areas causing flooding.
Many canal breaches have also been reported. The provincial governments need to take their irrigation departments to task and ask them about the status and schedule of canal cleaning and fortification of embankments that is usually due before the rainy season.
The problem with Pakistan’s disaster management programmes is that there is more emphasis on disaster relief and disaster response and a lot less emphasis on disaster prevention measures. Countries that are more prone to natural disasters have only been able to minimise this problem by aggressively pursuing the prevention path over the years. Japan, Australia and the Philippines have amazing disaster prevention and disaster mapping programmes. Every major city in Japan has a city specific prevention and relief programme which is stated on their metropolitan websites. These projects detail everything from weather outlook to flood maps to evacuation routes and other services for the general public. If similar plans are to be replicated in Pakistan, it is necessary that flood-prone areas should have a disaster prevention map to identify the flood risk, the nearest safe areas and probable evacuation routes beforehand.
Those who would argue that Japan is a rich country and can set aside a vast sum for prevention should note that other impoverished countries have faced disasters better than the likes of the US. In 2001, a devastating hurricane hit Cuba but the people and the government were prepared. The death toll was limited to just five people, while more than 700,000 people were evacuated to emergency shelters.
It is not just money that is required for disaster prevention and preparedness; it requires planning, long-term commitment and political will and vision to bring about sustained changes in the way we view problems and disasters.
First published in The Express Tribune
The Arab Spring has forever changed the way people will view social media in the context of political change and citizens’ active participation in bringing about that change. But politics is not the only arena where social media has made its presence felt. It can and has been used by a lot of humanitarian aid organisations and UN agencies in garnering support, as well as rallying people, securing funding and creating buzz for work that is helping millions across the world.
Last year, Doctors Without Borders launched an online application on the World Food Day that enabled supporters to donate their Facebook pages and Twitter accounts for 24 hours to help the organisation in its fight against malnutrition in children. Back in 2010, a single tweet from a television host in the US, which was re-tweeted a few thousand times, made it possible for the US air force to work with Doctors without Borders and land its planes in earthquake-hit Haiti. Twitter deemed it the most powerful tweet of that year. Other organisations that have a huge social media presence and actively engage with people across the world everyday include the Red Cross, the World Food Programme, the UNHCR and Islamic Relief USA, among others.
There is no disputing the role of social media in promoting social development and humanitarian aid, but it is also very important to know how to use it to serve the cause best. Social media teams do not work in isolation and must always be integrated with the press and public outreach programmes. It is also very important to strategise the use of various social media forums and decide which information goes where and why. For instance, Twitter, the microblogging site, is more useful if the idea is to get a lot of people talking about something and creating a buzz for it, but Facebook is more suitable for long-term engagement to a cause or an aid organisation. It is imperative that people working in the field understand their communication objectives and use appropriate platforms to spread their word, engage the public and influence policy.
If selecting the right social media platform for your communication need is most important, selecting the right tone for your message according to your platform is the next most important thing. A sharp and witty tweet can work wonders in getting the message across but it will require more nuanced interaction with the audience on your website or Facebook page to keep them engaged. How YouTube channels and Flickr accounts are used and integrated with other social media tools also determines the success of a cause, campaign or humanitarian intervention. I was part of the education emergency campaign last year. With the help of sharp tweets that tied the cricket World Cup and Shahid Afridi to education needs in the country, we managed to create quite a lot of Twitter buzz, which was backed with an interactive website, an active Facebook page along with a very informative YouTube channel. This year, during Ramazan, the World Food Programme in Pakistan launched the #fightinghungerRMZ campaign on Twitter and sent 30 bloggers to spend a day in one of its camps, which helped in the generation of locally-raised funds for the cause.
It must be noted that a social media campaign is only as good as the work done on the ground. A successful social media campaign does not guarantee success in the real world; it only supports the people who are actually providing help and assistance to those in need of it.
Originally written for The Express Tribune
The curriculum has helped this discourse in Pakistan, the history books that say “when we came or ruled the subcontinent,” they provide factually incorrect information. Barring a few who are the descendents of the armies of Mohammed Bin Qasim or the Mughals, most of the people of Pakistan are descendants of those who were already living in the subcontinent. Negating centuries old civilization for an identity that is still in evolution is not only untrue, but can have catastrophic consequences for the society. The elimination of local practices on the basis of their being un Islamic and foreign reflects the adherence to a particular interpretation of Islam and people upholding this interpretation as the truth are not only negating the religious experiences of different kinds of Muslims, but also the history of the land, creating a culture based on beliefs and practices that originate from outside the land.