Age is not just a number. Ask the women who were married off while barely in their teens, mostly to men thrice as old, and they will tell you tales of exploitation, violence, sexual and emotional abuse.
At an event organised by the Rehnuma-Family Planning Association of Pakistan (FPAP) on the eve of the International Women’s Day, six such women narrated their experiences of horror and abuse.
Nasim Akhtar’s fate was sealed at the age of 14.
Gone were the days she spent playing with other children outside her house. Following the death of her father and the subsequent financial constraints, her mother did what she thought was best and got her daughter married to a 55-year-old man.
Now a mother of four, Nasim recalled how she was subjected to physical violence at the hands of her husband and his family.
Similarly, Bushra was married off to a 40-year-old man and was also physically abused by her husband, due to which she lost her eyesight.
Apart from the regular beatings, Bushra’s husband would also emotionally and mentally abuse her.
“Sometimes, he told me to go outside and kill myself by jumping in front of the train, since I was such a useless person whose family did not care,” she said.
Another victim, Ishrat, was also 14 when she was married off to a drug addict and was forced to work to earn the livelihood for the family.
The mother of three told the audience that one night her husband locked her up and told her to “entertain” some of his guests for money. However, she managed to escape and get a divorce.
She said that in her second marriage she was not able to give birth to a child due to the injuries she had suffered because of early marriage.
Asma told the audience that she was traded off in Swara to settle a family dispute, arising after a girl from her in-laws’ family married her brother without the family’s consent.
About 30% of marriages in Pakistan fall under the category of childhood marriages, CEO Rehnuma Syed Kamal Shah told the gathering.
Due to this, he added, Pakistan’s fertility rate was the highest in the region, and the population is going to surge to 470 million by 2050.
Director Rehnuma Amna Qureshi said that child marriage was a violation of human rights, while pointing out that poverty and traditional customs were some of the main causes.
She also pointed out lacunae in the Child Marriage Restraint Act (CMRA) saying that on one hand it says that the age of marriage for girls is 16; however, at the same time it says that puberty age is 18.
MPA Shazia Themash told the gathering about a recent legislation regarding child and women rights and assured that she would introduce a private member bill in the assembly to increase the fine and punishment for child marriages.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 9th, 2012.