In an effort to end its age old tradition of child marriage, Pakistan has passed a new law to curb the practice that is estimated to affect one in five girls in the country. It has introduced some harsher punishments for those guilty of the crime.
The new law passed by the National Assembly, or lower house of parliament, also outlaws forced marriage involving women from minority groups, the Thomson Reuters Foundation reported.
Earlier, lawbreakers used to face a minimum of three years in prison and a fine of 500,000 rupees, but under the new law, offenders will have to face a minimum of five years in prison and may serve up to 10 years. They will also face a fine of up to 1m rupees ($9,547, £7,627).
"The punishment has been made harsher in the law ... in order to completely curb the social maladies which have risen because of the less stringent punishment and fines," Federal Law and Human Rights Minister Zahid Hamid told Reuters.
"Large-scale awareness about the crucial law and now about its amendments is key to make the law a success," Mahpara Shakil Ghauri, a senior official at Aurat Foundation, a charity promoting women's rights, said.
However, SPARC's chair Humera Malik showed concern over the ignorance of civil society organisations' demand to increase the age of marriage to 18 from 16 in the new law.
"Raising the age of the girl to 18, the same as that of a boy was long-standing demand of the child and women rights organization in the country. But it's really disappointing the age issue have been left untouched," Malik said.