PESHAWAR: More than 60 million girls around the world were married under the age of 18 last year, out of which 24% were from rural Pakistan and 18% from urban areas, said Blue Veins Programme Coordinator Qamar Naseem at a seminar.
Civil society organisations came together on Tuesday to highlight the issue of child marriages and the role of Union Councils in this regard. The seminar was held under the umbrella of Action Aid in collaboration with Blue Veins and Citizen Rights and Sustainable Development (CRSD).
Naseem added that if child marriages continue at this rate, an additional 100 million underage girls will be married within the next decade. “That is 25,000 new child brides every day for the next 10 years,” he said.
A large number of civil society members including lawyers, government officials, teachers and members of non-governmental organisations and community-based organisations attended the seminar.
Poverty plays a central role in causing and perpetuating early marriage. “Poor families often have few resources to support healthy alternatives for girls, such as giving them proper education,” he added.
In families with limited resources, child marriage is often seen as a way to provide for a daughter’s future. However, girls who marry young have more chances of remaining poor.
Early marriage thwarts a girl’s chances of acquiring education, endangers her health and cuts short her personal growth and development, participants said.
The risk of death for pregnant girls under the age of 15 is five times higher than for women in their twenties. Taken together, the costs of this practice are too high to be ignored. Societies cannot progress when the common practice of marriage dooms them to a life of poverty,” he said.
A religious scholar Maulana Ghousul Kabir expressed his views about early marriages in light of Islam. He said that Islamic law does not sanction child marriages and urged religious clerics to come forward and clear the ‘myth’ that surrounds this issue.
During the session, child marriage survivors also shared their testimonies with the participants and helped them understand how the issue reduces women empowerment.
CRSD Director Idress Kamal said that child marriage has affected many women. “The problem with early marriages is that the bride is immature herself. If she gets pregnant, she is usually underweight and malnourished. Her pregnancy causes many complications, and health risks for the babies in these cases are also high,” he said.
“If a girl is married off at an age when she herself should be playing with dolls, how can she handle a baby or go through delivery?” he questioned.
An Action Aid member, Alia Rasheed, said that gender discrimination is the main reason behind marrying daughters at an early age. “While birth of sons is celebrated, daughters are often seen as burdens.”
Published in The Express Tribune, January 2nd, 2013.