The Pakistani Senate managed to besmirch the United Nations International Day of the Girl Child in the last week by rejecting a bill that would have raised the minimum age for girls to marry from 16 to 18. The grounds cited for the rejection of the bill were that the proposed amendment was ‘contrary to religious injunctions’ according to the Senate Standing Committee on Interior. The rejection appears to fly in the face of the Khartoum Declaration ‘Towards a brighter future for our children’, February 2009. Item 26 of the Declaration states…’Take the necessary measures to eliminate all forms of discrimination against girls and all harmful traditional or customary practices, such as child marriage and female genital mutilation, in the light of the relevant declarations, instruments, and conventions.’
The United Nations Children’s Fund says that 21 per cent of Pakistani girls are married before the age of 18 and a worrying three per cent before 15. It is the poorest and least developed communities where the practice has the highest prevalence. Girls married young find their education curtailed and often a life of endless pregnancies that takes a toll on increasingly frail bodies. Children — and this applies to boys as well as girls — that are married too soon are doomed to struggle. The girls are at a higher risk of domestic violence at the hands of their immature husbands as well as marital rape.
There is no paucity of evidence regarding all of this yet Pakistan persists in lagging shamefully behind in the developing world, institutionalising the abuse of girl children. The current law set the age of marriage for girls at 16 — itself too young — but the law is rarely enforced with courts often choosing to go down the path of Shariah law that pegs puberty as the point at which a girl may marry. With menarche in some girls occurring at 10 years old and frequently at 12 the problem is clear. The government urgently needs to remove the confusions that exist between religious interpretations and federal and provincial laws. On their celebratory day the girl-children of Pakistan were done no favours by its lawmakers.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 14th, 2017.