‘Safe’ age: ‘Make 18 minimum marriageable age’

Published: March 29, 2012
FORCED MARRIAGES: 25 cases per month are reported, on average, in
Sindh of minority members
being forced into marriage
after conversion to Islam.

FORCED MARRIAGES: 25 cases per month are reported, on average, in Sindh of minority members being forced into marriage after conversion to Islam.


Speakers at a Shirkat Gah-Women Resource Centre consultation on Wednesday asked the government to make 18 the ‘safe age of marriage’ for both boys and girls.

They asked that amendments be made to the Child Marriage Restraint Act 1929, in which the minimum age of marriage is 16 years.

Other recommendations included an increase in jail time – from a month’s imprisonment to two years of rigorous imprisonment – and the fine – from Rs1,000 to at least Rs100,000 – for violations.

Fauzia Viqar, the Shirkat Gah advocacy director, said that the study, which looks at how early marriage impacts health of mother and child, education and society, had been conducted in Sindh, Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.

In cases of girls, she said, early marriage meant they could not continue their studies or pursue a career, adding that in case they were already working, marriage meant giving up their career.

Khawar Mumtaz, the centre’s chief executive officer, started off with a presentation.

Quoting from the Pakistan Demographic and Health Survey (2007), she said while 50 per cent of women (between 15 and 29 years) were married at the age of 20, around seven per cent become mothers at 15.

For boys, she said, early marriages mean they are given a lot of responsibility prematurely.

Mumtaz said that education could play a crucial role in increasing the age of marriage. “If a girl completes her secondary education, she might want to go to college. Not every girl will, but at least some will prefer education over marriage and fight for it,” she said.

She also stressed the need for training nikahkhwans and marriage registrars.

A nikahkhwan from Sindh talked about nikahkhwans crossing out sections in the decree pertaining to the consent of the girl, dower and maintenance.

He said that in his village dower was usually set at Rs1,000. “Neither party questions it. If the husband is unhappy with the marriage, he doesn’t think twice about divorcing the woman because Rs1,000 is not a huge amount to pay.”

He said that he had recently come across a 13-year-old boy who was forced to marry his widowed sister-in-law. The boy has now refused to live with her, he said. “Had the boy not been forced, the woman wouldn’t have had to go through this ordeal,” he said. “I think both the man and woman should be in their 20s at the time of their marriage,” he added.

Mumtaz said customs like watta satta (exchange), pait likkhi (decisions about who the child would marry before its birth), vani and swara were behind the majority of under age marriages. Poverty, property disputes, forced conversions and “inadequate” laws and non-implementation also contribute to the trend of early marriages.

Viqar said that 25 cases per month were reported, on average, in Sindh of minority members being forced into marriage after conversion to Islam.

Zakia Shahnawaz, adviser to the chief minister on women’s empowerment, promised to amend the Act.

Mohyuddin Ahmad Wani, the Information, Culture and Youth Affairs secretary, suggested that school-going children be educated about the consequences of early marriage. He also recommended the use of visual media.

“Nothing works better than a picture or a film. I am sure a 40-second video clip will have more effect on children than four pages of literature,” he said.

Qadeer Baig of the World Population Fund cautioned against “just looking at the averages.” “Our work won’t be finished until no one is married before they reach the legal age,” he said.

Amna Aksheed, Rahnuma-Family Planning Association director (Adolescence), shared minutes of the association’s recent discussions with ulemas in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

She said it was important to educate men – “since they are the decision makers in the majority of cases” – to bring about the desired results.

Viqar then concluded the consultation reiterating the demand that 18 years be declared the safe age of marriage. “It’s the legal age to have an identity card made, to vote, get a passport or register for the Benazir Income Support Programme,” she said.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 29th, 2012.

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Reader Comments (22)

  • Bilal
    Mar 29, 2012 - 3:12AM

    As if someone is going to follow law in our ignorant society.


  • Nobody
    Mar 29, 2012 - 8:42AM

    It’s a start and I’m glad to see something being done about child marriages, but it’s going to take a lot of time and effort for the rural population to get on board and follow the implemented system, given that it’s ever properly implemented. Never understood the idea of child marriages. Seems impractical for so many reasons; it potentially endangers the life of a young girl for several reasons, and burden young boys and girls with too much responsibility too early in their life. Society should be encouraging youngsters to go to school and work to make something of themselves and become contributing members of society as opposed to planning everything around marriage and babies. My two cents….


  • muhammad jibran
    Mar 29, 2012 - 12:23PM

    Paedophilia is widespread in our society.It is deeply ingrained in our minds.we just have a nikah khwan give it religious and legal cover.Marriages to underage girls is very common,the paedophile dulha has no remorse.
    As long as maulvis continue to promote paedophilia by solemnising nikahs of girl childs,the situation won’t improve.it’s time such nikah khwans were put in jail to send the message that paedophilia won’t be tolerated in our society any more.


  • Mandeep Vaid
    Mar 29, 2012 - 1:48PM

    @muhammad jibran:
    With the term Paedophilia you are taunting and disgracing your religion.


  • Rehan
    Mar 29, 2012 - 1:50PM

    Marriage at 13?! O_O
    I can’t even… Unbelievably disgusting society. That’s all I can say.


  • Random
    Mar 29, 2012 - 4:37PM

    the intelligence of these people makes me laugh. Laws will not stop child marriages, changing mindsets will. And that takes real guts and effort, which none of the drawing room aunties and uncles have.

    Simplistic solutions to complex problems do not work..


  • Random
    Mar 29, 2012 - 4:38PM

    And here is another question.

    They say its a personal choice to have sexual relations. But they want to make a law to stop marriages below 18… IDIOTIC….


  • Mar 29, 2012 - 6:42PM

    Why 18? Is the number based on a broad based and long-term scientific study or is it just an arbitrary number these NGOs came up with? Or just copy-cat whatever they are doing in the west?

    Also, these NGOs and pseudo-liberals have no problem with under-age or extra-marital sex but God-forgive if someone talks about under-age marriage. Its all part of an agenda!


  • Mj
    Mar 29, 2012 - 7:35PM

    Because pregnancy is the leading cause of death among girls aged 15-19*, to say nothing about girls even younger who are married off for cultural, traditional, or religious reasons. Is that not reason enough? There are also many harmful psychological effects of marriage at a young age.

    *Source: UNFPA – State of World Population 2004


  • Mar 29, 2012 - 8:12PM

    No girl should be made to leave her home, her parents’ care at such a young age! One would either end up with the in-laws or an overage husband if one’s just 16. But in a country where many young girls await getting married simply because their parents cannot afford to feed and clothe their six kids, marriage sometimes mean escape and a higher social status.


  • Cautious
    Mar 29, 2012 - 9:23PM

    He said that he had recently come
    across a 13-year-old boy who was
    forced to marry his widowed

    In most civilized countries that would result in the parents going to jail and they might lose custody of any other children they have. Time to join the 21st century!


  • Khurram
    Mar 29, 2012 - 9:56PM

    @Mandeep Vaid! Sir, Muhammad Jibran is stating the fact, calling it by any other name would not diminish the problem or eradicate the sickness our society is suffering from. The truth always hurts but it never insults, on the contrary Islam like all other religions promotes and defends the truth. We have to catch the bull by the horns and it is of no consequences whether or not the term used to describe the malaise (pedophilia) so prevalent in my society: is appropriate or not.


  • Zee
    Mar 30, 2012 - 1:18AM


    Here is what the report said (http://www.unfpa.org/swp/2004/english/ch9/page5.htm):

    “Pregnancy is a leading cause of death for those aged 15 to 19, with complications of childbirth and unsafe abortion being the major factors. Women aged 15-19 account for at least one fourth of the estimated 20 million unsafe abortions and nearly 70,000 abortion-related deaths each year.

    For both physiological and social reasons, mothers aged 15 to 19 are twice as likely to die in childbirth as those in their 20s, and girls under age 15 are five times as likely to die as women in their 20s. Obstructed labour is especially common among young, physically immature women giving birth for the first time. Those who don’t die from unrelieved obstructed labour may lose their babies and suffer from fistula, a hole in the birth canal that leaves them incontinent and often social outcasts. “

    So, it was not “physiological” reason alone buy also “social reasons” including lack of access to safe medical treatment that led to these deaths. Furthermore, the report also included 19 years old in that age category which means the current age of marriage, if you were to believe and succumb to the report, should be risen to 20 years old. However, the age groupings was done artificially. Instead of advocating for age of marriage to be 18, why wouldn’t liberals sit and think on how to improve access to safe medical treatment for early mothers and educating these young mothers/wives about their unique “physiology” instead of parroting what liberals in the Western world think? Teen pregnancy was never fought because it caused deaths among teens in the US. Why do you think so?


  • Random
    Mar 30, 2012 - 8:01AM

    @ Zee – but that would mean they have to do hard work.. Noo Not acceptable. Babbling out half truths from research reports is preferred by them…


  • Aditya Randhawa
    Mar 30, 2012 - 9:15AM

    ‘Safe’ age: ‘Make 6 minimum marriageable age’ as Ayesha was married at the age of 6 some 1400 years ago


  • Aditya Randhawa
    Mar 30, 2012 - 9:19AM

    but do you think you are a civilized country


  • Aditya Randhawa
    Mar 30, 2012 - 9:20AM

    @Mandeep Vaid:
    good one yaar


  • Aditya Randhawa
    Mar 30, 2012 - 9:22AM

    scrap all laws including Islamic laws


  • Mandeep Vaid
    Mar 30, 2012 - 11:54AM

    @Aditya Randhawa:
    Amending any laws which oppose and contradict the life-style of their holy Prophet has Zero% chance in the Pakistani society. He is supposed to be the messenger of God and all his actions are divine and a guidebook for the muslim people such as his marriage with the 9 years old child Ayesha.


  • Asif
    Mar 30, 2012 - 3:49PM

    Every Muslim man who has reached puberty has the right to get married provided he can support his family. This usually means 11 – 13 years of age.
    For a Muslim women the age is between 9 – 11 years.

    I don’t understand why on earth are we doubting ALLAH when we are setting the marriage age at 18 years. There must have been some reason that human beings reach puberty at this age. It is far better for a parent to marry their children than let them watch porn & indulge in illegal sexual activities.

    Islam also gives right to women if they want to marry a certain person or not, unfortunately it is us humans who deny them this right. Islam has nothing wrong in it, it gives protection to everyone but we are making it wrong.


  • Ali
    Mar 30, 2012 - 3:52PM

    @Mandeep Vaid:
    @Aditya Randhawa:
    You may be able to influence the less knowledgeable minds by your hateful arguments but you are only showing your lack of knowledge about Islam, sociology and lack of context to the knowledgeable ones by your comments. Kindly take your hatred elsewhere as we are discussing a serious social issue in context of the present society.


  • Ali
    Mar 30, 2012 - 4:00PM

    As for parents, when we have established security which I mentioned in my previous comment, we will need to educate our people that their daughters CAN have a secure and prosperous life outside of the institution of marriage which will leave to a curb in parents pushing their daughters into marriage at a young age and will rest the power of that decision with our young females in a pro-choice environment. For those advocating early or late marriage, kindly do not force your brand of liberation on anyone, only empower them to choose for themselves.


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