Too young to wed

Published: October 19, 2012
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The writer is an Islamabad-based freelance communications consultant. She tweets @tazeen and blogs at 
http://tazeen-tazeen.blogspot.com

The writer is an Islamabad-based freelance communications consultant. She tweets @tazeen and blogs at http://tazeen-tazeen.blogspot.com

United Nations (UN) agencies are generally criticised for not doing enough but they should be commended for coming up with quality research from time to time, which can and should serve as harsh reminders to governments across the world that they need to get their acts together. The UN Population Fund recently released a report titled “Too Young to Wed” on child marriage, which should alarm all governments in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. The two regions have the highest and second-highest percentage of women, respectively, who are married off before they turn 18 years of age.

International conventions declare that child marriage is a violation of human rights because it denies children the right to decide when and who to marry. A country like Pakistan, which is a signatory to the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and has ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), needs to align its local laws regarding child marriage, as both conventions categorically state that appropriate measures will be taken to abolish traditional practices prejudicial to the health of children, such as child marriage.

The evils of child marriage are many. For starters, it cruelly snatches the childhood away and thrusts a child into adulthood well before her time. It directly threatens the health and wellbeing of young girls as complications from pregnancy and childbirth are cited as the main cause of death among adolescent girls aged 15-19. As the numbers of girls who are married as children grows, the numbers of children bearing children will increase and deaths among young girls will rise, further deteriorating the child and maternal mortality rates.

In the case of Pakistan, religion is also cited as a reason for child marriages as it is considered advisable to marry girls off soon after they reach puberty. This, however, is just an excuse. Medical science tells us that puberty only marks the beginning of a gradual transition into adulthood. Religion also asks its followers to educate their children and to follow the path of moderation and if any attention is paid to these other two recommendations, child marriage would become a distant dream.

Girls’ vulnerability to child marriage increases during humanitarian crises when family and social structures are disrupted and many parents marry off their daughters to bring the family some income or to offer the girl some sort of protection. Humanitarian workers noticed a surge in child marriages during the internally displaced persons crisis brought on by the floods of 2010 and 2011.

The child marriage issue is central to many development goals. By dealing with just the child marriage issue, governments can work towards closing the gap in the Millennium Development Goals of eradication of extreme poverty, achievement of universal primary education, promotion of gender equality, reduction in child mortality, improvement in maternal health and better ways to combat HIV/AIDS.

Our own government needs to start a multi-pronged strategy to deal with this issue. First, all provincial governments need to be fully committed to criminalising child marriage and streamlining local laws according to the CEDAW and the CRC. They not only need to invest in female child education but also must invest in campaigns to encourage the maximum number of parents to enroll their children in schools. Contraceptives should be easily and readily available and most importantly, decent employment opportunities should be made available for both parents. A family that can feed and educate its children is less likely to marry them off.

Published in The Express Tribune, October 20th, 2012.

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Reader Comments (19)

  • Sabih Shad
    Oct 19, 2012 - 10:42PM

    Why take away the right of someone who is 16 to marry?

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  • Rani
    Oct 19, 2012 - 11:00PM

    Nice article, but sadly, we cannot change a culture. Governments only crave for votes in a democratic country, they don’t care about well-being of country in the Long Run.
    Imagine if parliament does criminalization of child marriage, in those areas where child marriage is an old “Tradition,” people would be against the decision of democratic Government. And that’s why Government doesn’t care – who’s gonna vote them next time then?
    And as long as investment in female child education is concerned – I’ve seen many female school buildings that are empty. Why? Uneducated Parents don’t want their daughters to go to school. They want them to take care of kitchen only!
    “‘Bache 2 hi achay!” “aagay barhna hai toh Alif, Bay, Pay per yaqeen rakho!” won’t work ’cause our country is full of arrogant bigots! The actual problem is with the people, I believe, from what I have seen.

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  • gp65
    Oct 19, 2012 - 11:33PM

    Child marriages are a prolem in our whole region – not just Pakistan and are a cultural tradition rather than related to a religion. Apart from the problems you listed early marriage and consequently early pregnancy also results in seiously low birthweight kids who grow up stunted. In India at least this is a more likely outcome than inmfant mortality. I know that this is one of the biggest root cause for low weight among kids 2-5 in India. I would imagine it is so in Pakistan as well.

    The other isue is disruption of education which impacts not just the economic capacity of the woman but multiple other family issues such as level of health and hygiene practiced, thelikelihood of kids being educated and so on.

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  • Mirza
    Oct 20, 2012 - 2:33AM

    It is a real sickness that children are making children. There is a strange euphoria about the increasing number of Muslims in the world especially among Pakistanis. All the healthy and rich nations are not the most populated countries in the world; on the contrary they are sparsely populated.
    I often come with the situation where a young child is being married and I am asked to help the poor family out. It is the duty of those who are middle class to help the less fortunate. However, I try to tell them that this girl is still a young teenager and her poverty is only going to get worse and worse. In a year she would have her own kid and her mother would have one too. Who is going to take care of them all? Yet their attitude is just shut up and give us the money! Unless there is a law against young brides and grooms the situation is only going to get worse not better. We are even falling behind Bangladesh in this respect which used to be our 56% of the population.

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  • Nobody
    Oct 20, 2012 - 3:34AM

    @Sabih Shad:
    Teenagers as young as 16 are not known to make the best decisions and its usually their folks making the decision to marry them off so ridiculously young. How can you take care of other humans when you can barely take care of yourself? The results have almost always been disastrous and very veryy rarely do marriages involving people so young (usually girls) produce positive results. Marrying your kids off so young should be a crime. Why have kids if you just want to get rid of them before you’re even done raising them?

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  • Sabih Shad
    Oct 20, 2012 - 4:07AM

    And 18 is okay?

    Does that additional 2 years make the world of a difference?

    It is a reality that physical desires exist post puberty, why should we be forced to compromise on those? Or do away with our religion and do what others do to satisfy them.

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  • Indian Wisdom
    Oct 20, 2012 - 10:46AM

    @Sabih Shad:
    “And 18 is okay?”
    No not even 18 is not fine if you are seeing the whole thing from the perspective of “It is a reality that physical desires exist post puberty,” as eventually it will lead to pregnancy (as author has already pointed out about lack of contraceptive opportunities).
    Again emphasizing the point stated by the author , it is fact that “Medical science tells us that puberty only marks the beginning of a gradual transition into adulthood.”
    Body parts particularly Pelvic bones and uterus are not developed at tender age of 16 or 18. It takes further 2 to 3 years after 18. Any pregnancy at this tender age will lead to different complications including severe anemia, underweight children, premature birth etc. Besides its one of the leading cause of maternal deaths in south Asia.
    Please have some empathy for the children and don’t justify the assassination of their dream and life!!!

    @ Author
    Thanks for bringing this extremely important topic for discussion and thanks for sharing the link.

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  • Oct 20, 2012 - 11:06AM

    Article is written artistically… But I have One question… Why do we people take UN as model, Import Ideas from West, cry over CEDAW and CRC and Criticism come from the world to south Asian, Most of the time… ? I would suggest the writer to go through the phenomenon of violence in other parts of the world… if the writer talks about the child marriages taking the case of Pakistan, she should also find this in the form of schoolgirl/teenage pregnancies in Africa USA, and Europe and the…. it does seem always good to criticism and portray a bad picture of Pakistan and south Asian nations, instead we should try to explore the uniqueness of South Asian….. the kinship culture, the social support network, community cooperation, hospitality, and many other things we have here but I don’t really understand the psyche of the people who criticize Pakistan and South Asia and always praising the exported models…!

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  • Oct 20, 2012 - 11:15AM

    This is Important issue But not in the sense you have talked about … do consider the actual religious practices and teachings about marriages also go through the phenomenon of violence and schoolgirls pregnancies in USA, Europe, and may of the African and Caribbean as well… what is the point to portray Pakistan and South Asia as having nothing good and every problem that is under discussions in the UN or elsewhere, exists in Pakistan and South Asia ???????

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  • Nobody
    Oct 20, 2012 - 12:16PM

    @Sabih Shad:
    You missed my point completely. Indian Wisdom’s comment might help clarify it. Legally 18 is an adult; doesn’t mean I think an 18 year old is old enough to marry. With education comes options; educate girls (and boys) and let them contribute all that they have to offer as opposed to just making babies they can’t afford year after year.

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  • curious
    Oct 20, 2012 - 1:40PM

    The people in power want to keep the masses and illiterate. Barefoot and pregnant is the way to go!

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  • Ahmed
    Oct 20, 2012 - 5:20PM

    I visited Egypt and was told marrying eight years was good as Aisha married at that age.

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  • Cynical
    Oct 20, 2012 - 7:11PM

    @Ahmed

    I wanted to mention the same example to justify child marriage, but was scared of non believers and the mod too.
    One correction, it was nine, not eight.

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  • Sabih Shad
    Oct 20, 2012 - 7:35PM

    @Indian Wisdom:

    Wouldn’t it simply be better to promote contraception then outlaw marriage?

    Where did all the pro freedom of choice arguments go?

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  • Indian Wisdom
    Oct 20, 2012 - 9:11PM

    @Sabih Shad:
    “Wouldn’t it simply be better to promote contraception then outlaw marriage?
    Where did all the pro freedom of choice arguments go?”

    According to UNICEF’s “State of the World’s Children-2009” report, 47% of India’s women aged 20–24 were married before the legal age of 18, with 56% marrying before age 18 in rural areas.[15] The report also showed that 40% of the world’s child marriages occur in India

    The research by International Center for Research on women (ICRW) has highlighted “Child marriage most often occurs in poor, rural communities. In many regions, parents arrange their daughter’s marriage unbeknownst to the girl. That can mean that one day, she may be at home playing with her siblings, and the next, she’s married off and sent to live in another village with her husband and his family – strangers, essentially. She is pulled out of school. She is separated from her peers. And once married, she is more likely to be a victim of domestic violence and suffer health complications associated with early sexual activity and childbearing.”

    And these are not question of freedom of choice but the issue of forced marriage mostly against their wish , and at the minimum marriage without right to informed choice!!!!!

    The best approach is prevent child marriage whenever possible and if the child is already married promote contraception extensively!!!!

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  • gp65
    Oct 20, 2012 - 11:15PM

    @Cynical: “@Ahmed
    I wanted to mention the same example to justify child marriage, but was scared of non believers and the mod too.
    One correction, it was nine, not eight”.

    Sir you have certainly piqued the curiosity of THIS supposed non-believer. Are you serious or simply being sarcastic. I hope it is the latter. Also I referred to myself (a Hindu) as a supposed non-believer since I do believe in God and have no problem if some people choose to give the name Allah to that God- I just happen to be a non-Muslim. I find it interesting that you would describe all non-Muslims as non-believers in God.

    I have read many of your posts with great interest and find this one quite uncharacteristic of your normal style.

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  • Cynical
    Oct 21, 2012 - 12:11AM

    @gp65

    Rest assured nothing has changed.It was a comment made in jest.
    The reference to the ‘non-believers’ has to be undrestood in the context of the comment; that is to say all those who do not believe in the ‘one and only god’ is a non-believer.
    I will never fail to respect people because of their belief or, lack of it, for any or all sort of Gods.
    Thanks for those kind words.
    Have a nice day.

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  • Cynical
    Oct 21, 2012 - 2:14PM

    @gp65

    Rest assured nothing has changed.It was a comment made in jest.
    The reference to the ‘non-believers’ has to be undrestood in the context of the comment; that is to say all those who do not believe in the ‘one and only god’ is a non-believer.
    I will never fail to respect people because of their belief or, lack of it, for any or all sort of Gods.
    Thanks for those kind words.
    Have a nice day.Recommend

  • Sabih Shad
    Oct 23, 2012 - 7:09AM

    @Indian Wisdom:

    I agree with outlawing forced marriage, but simply can’t make the leap from there to outlawing marriage out of free choice of any two consenting people who are, say 16.

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