According to a recent report, 24 per cent of girls married under the age of 18 worldwide last year were from rural Pakistan, whereas 18 per cent were from the country’s urban areas. The issue of child marriage raises several health concerns for young girls, some of which include pregnancy complications, health risks for babies born to young mothers and the risk of death. The report said that girls pregnant under the age of 15 have a five times greater chance of dying compared with girls pregnant in their 20s. Early marriage can also thwart personal development and growth as a child constantly undergoes physical, mental and emotional changes before reaching adulthood. In Pakistan, young girls are sometimes married off to older men, which poses the risk that the girls might become conditioned to acting submissive towards their older male counterparts. This can also stunt their personality development.
One obvious thing that girls married young miss out on is education. At a seminar recently held on the issue, it was reported that girls married young have more chances of remaining poor than those who marry later. Moreover, girls should first be equipped with at least basic education so that they have something to rely on should a spouse end the marriage or pass away.
While the Child Marriage Restraint Act of 1929 says that the police cannot intervene directly in underage marriage, implying that Sharia law is to be consulted, the government needs to intervene. Child marriage should be prohibited and the legal age of marriage should be raised from 16 to 18. Pakistan is signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Children which defines child marriage below the age of 18; yet, the country allows marriages at age 16. The civil society also needs to work towards eradicating certain false assumptions in our culture, such as that religion sanctions child marriage. This seminar is a step in the positive direction but we hope that our lawmakers also take notice and amend child marriage laws.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 3rd, 2013.