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Islamabad: Fashion aficionados at this year’s Pakistan bridal week were surprised to see a little girl walk the ramp in school uniform after several models strutted at the Hum Bridal Couture Week 2017 in Lahore.

People stopped and stared for a long time as the girl emerged wearing a school uniform embellished with bridal motifs. This little girl symbolised all the child brides, highlighting the problem of child marriages which remains a grave issue in Pakistan.

This controversial dress worn by the child as the show stopper was developed by Ali Xeeshan, a renowned Pakistani dress designer, in collaboration with the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women).

The campaign stresses on the fact that little girls should be in school wearing uniforms not wedding dresses and aims to end child marriages by raising public awareness.

“This symbol, the bridal uniform was used to question the unfortunate nature of many marriages that should not be a cause of celebration for the brides, or even the nation as a whole. The horrible trade-off that takes place when a child is deprived of her right to an education, and instead is being dressed to be someone’s wife, is what this campaign targets” reads the statement by UN Women.

With this startling campaign, UN Women aims to make people aware of the issue of child marriages in Pakistan, its life-long implications and preventive measures to address it and help the potential and present victims.

The campaign was further launched through a website and on social media after the live showcase of the bridal uniform to evoke emotions within people to take action. A donation fund has also been set up on the website and funds will directly go to the Kashf Foundation.

Pakistan’s Child Marriage Restraint Act (CMRA) sets the legal age of marriage to be 16 for women and 18 for men. However, an estimated 20 per cent of women are married off before the age of 18 and 3 per cent overall do not even cross the age of 15 before they get married, according to Unicef.

“It’s astounding how women aren’t allowed to drive or vote before the age of 18 and at the same time, they’re forced into this lifelong commitment way before they reach that age” said Jamshed Kazi, Country Representative for UN Women Pakistan.

In May 2017, the National Assembly rejected the draft Child Marriage Restraint Act that would have increased the legal age for marriage from 16 to 18 nationwide.

Now, the Child Marriage Restraint Act (Amendment) to raise the legal age of marriage from 16 to 18 will be voted upon by the Senate which is why the campaigners are urging people to sign the petition to generate greater momentum of public support for its passage both at the Senate and eventually at the National Assembly too. So far, 1600 people have signed the petition which is striving for 10000 pledges.