Life has come to an end for Sana*, Aneela* and Shiza*, three daughters of a rickshaw driver from Gujar Khan, who became victim of early marriages due to poverty and cultural customs. This has affected them psychologically, physically and socially.
“It was the worst day of my life when my mother asked me to wear a bridal dress and get ready for my nikah via telephone with a man I had never met or seen,” Shiza, now a domestic worker in Islamabad, told The Express Tribune.
Then a 16-year-old student, she said her mother threatened to commit suicide if she refused the proposal. “I was forced to marry a 30-year-old man who had never even been to school,” she said.
Like her elder sisters, she faced domestic violence from in-laws, and later her children faced similar beatings.
Ten years later, she got divorced, but her husband took their children.
“I wanted to become a doctor but my dreams were shattered, now I have no life and no hopes,” she said.
On every Mother’s Day, we honor mothers and celebrate motherhood, however on this day, there is a need to create awareness about those core issues affecting mothers. Among many others, discouraging early marriages is one of them, said Natasha Sajjad, assistant programme officer at the World Population Fund (WPF).
Sajjad said a direct consequence of marrying while young is early childbirth and greater vulnerability to related complications, especially morbidities such as fistula, post-partum hemorrhage, sepsis and hypertensive disorder due to biological and psychological factors.
Early marriage compromises the development of girls as it marks the end of their education. Ill-equipped to face livelihood demands, they are required to perform heavy amounts of domestic work and other duties. Besides this, contraceptive prevalence is also extremely low among married adolescents and they are more likely to experience domestic violence, she said.
Rights activist Samar Minallah said that in our society, young people often fall victim to the values and customs followed by the older generation.
“She becomes a victim of emotional blackmail. Though parents would rarely want to deliberately hurt their children, in the case of early marriages they end up ruining the child’s life forever,” she said.
Qudsia Mehmood, a clinical psychologist, said marrying a girl at an age when she is struggling to accept changes during puberty is like destroying her physically and psychologically. This leads to depression, anxiety and lack of confidence, which later affect their children as they suffer from mental illness, become sensitive or hyperactive.
Shedding more light ont he issue, Aqsa Khan, executive director of Women’s Organisation for Rights and Development, said, a large number of women are married of at an early age due to social, cultural and patriarchal traditional requirements. These child marriages are a punishable crime, she added.
Just days ahead of Mothers Day, Natasha Sajjad summed up the problem. “Stepping into motherhood is a cause of celebration, but as an adult, not an adolescent.”
*Names changed to protect identity
Published in The Express Tribune, May 13th, 2012.