Social customs: ‘Nearly half of Pakistani women are married before the age of 18’

Published: August 31, 2013
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Early marriage is the root cause of maternal mortality, stress participants.

Early marriage is the root cause of maternal mortality, stress participants.

KARACHI: 

Approximately half of Pakistani women are married before 18 years of age and nine per cent of girls begin childbearing between 15-19 years, Shirkat Gah – a non-governmental organisation -revealed on Thursday.

The organisation states that 64.6 per cent of women in Pakistan are illiterate and 74 per cent are deprived of being a part of the formal economy, while female life expectancy is 66.1 per cent. It was also said that the average number of children a woman bears in her lifetime is 4.1, while the number of mothers dying due to complications during pregnancy is 276 per 100,000 live births.

The data was shared during a programme, titled ‘Continuing the Momentum for a Healthier Tomorrow’, in which print, electronic and radio media persons participated.

The participants highlighted that infant and maternal mortality rate was the highest in Pakistan compared to other South Asian countries, adding that it was mainly because of the child marriage custom in the society. The laws protecting women rights are not being implemented in letter and spirit, they lamented.

“Child marriage is a crime,” said Dr Tabinda Sarosh of the Shirkat Gah. “It is necessary to implement laws related to women rights for a healthier and prosperous society.” She said that the laws for women rights, including the ones against domestic violence and sexual harassment, exist but are not implemented.

“It’s the duty of the government to create an enabling environment for women within a framework based on equality so that they can access and exercise their rights fully,” she demanded.

The Shirkat Gah’s study shows that adolescents suffered due to the lack of youth friendly services for reproductive health issues. The organisation’s research, based on Matiari and Jacobabad, found that the average age of marriage for girls was between 12 to 14 years.

Imran Shirvanee, a media person, said that people, especially in rural and remote areas, need to understand the repercussions of early marriages. “It is not a religious issue, but a social problem,” he added. “Early marriage is a crime, but the government has not taken concrete measures to address it as yet.”

He said that eradicating the custom of child marriages can lead to better health of mother and child. It will further help recognise their human rights, education rights, matrimonial rights. “It should be addressed with political maturity,” he concluded.

Dr Sarosh said that 18 years of age limit should be fixed for marriage for men and women. Shirvanee was of the view that setting the age limit at 21, however, could make a real difference in a society like Pakistan.

“The role of the media in eradicating such practices is pivotal but it needs to first develop proper understanding of the issue,” suggested Qazi Asif, a participant. He highlighted the need for women empowerment, adding that women in different set ups, including the provincial and national assemblies, have been playing their due role.

“It is a social dilemma,” said Mujahid Shah, another participant. “Being a husband or a wife is a complete responsibility as it needs physical and mental maturity.”

The participants believed that some norms and values in the society had created hindrances, stressing that awareness through media could also bring a change.

It was highlighted that poverty was one of the key determinants of the utilisation of public health facilities and is also closely related to the well-being of women in terms of nutrition and food security. “Marginalised women belonging to poor class, rural areas, minority groups, migrants, internally displaced and adolescent age group remain at the lowest rung of power dynamics in the society,” said Dr Sarosh.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 31st, 2013.

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Reader Comments (5)

  • Realist
    Aug 31, 2013 - 10:31AM

    Age of 18 years is not the issue here. Issue should be “were they given a choice in the matter?” 18 years is a nonsense age limit created out of thin air. Girls biologically become adult at around 14 to 15 years and should be given a choice in the matter as adults.

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  • G Khan
    Aug 31, 2013 - 2:44PM

    We need to educate our people that our population has grown by six times and we cannot continue at these suicidal population growth rates.

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  • indi
    Aug 31, 2013 - 6:12PM

    4.1 per woman ….dats high ….!! :O … indian muslims have around 3.4 children per woman ..dat is high as well……Recommend

  • Sep 5, 2013 - 4:08PM

    Teenage pregnancy rate in Great Britain is the highest in western Europe. It is a civilised country and Yemen is a backward country because it allows young girls to get married. It is also gross hypocrisy for the police to prosecute paedophiles when the government is overseeing boy scouts being given condoms from the age 11 and girls of the same age being told it is OK to have sex if they use ‘protection’. Boys and girls at age 11 are not allowed to marry but they can have sex and produce children. Every parent is worried about his child being indoctrinated into the idea that gay and sexual promiscuity is “normal” modes of behaviour. At the same time, all parents have the right to control their children and it is their Duty to control them.

    However, each year in England and Wales around 300 under-13s become pregnant. Since 2002 there have been 63,487 pregnancies among under-16s including 15 aged ten, 39 aged 11, 268 aged 12, 2,527 aged 13, 14,777 aged 14 and 45,861 aged 15. So it is clear that many young people either don’t have the information, access to help and advice, or the self-confidence to take precautions or say ‘no’.

    The thought of being a virgin on your wedding night forget it, where are our morals and values. The answer, down the toilet. These are children having sex, getting pregnant exploring with partners. Just where is society going, I’m not psychic but from what’s going on in society today the future does not look pretty.

    More than a quarter of young women today lost their virginity when they were below the legal age of consent, NHS figures reveal. This does not surprise me at all, Britain has the most teen pregnancies in the whole of Europe. . Very sad that despite sexual education in schools nothing has really changed in the last 30 years, if anything it has become worse. Britain has the highest rates of abortion, STDs, crime, obesity, divorce, illiterate school leavers, teen pregnancies, excessive drinking and drug use. Makes me ashamed.

    Some 27 per cent of 16 to 24 year-olds admit they were 15 or under when they had sex for the first time.

    One in eight of this age group have already had sex with at least ten different partners. MPs and campaigners yesterday blamed the ‘pornification of society’ for encouraging young girls to dress themselves up as sex objects before they have even reached puberty. Critics say the rise in promiscuity over the generations is linked to increased sex education in schools that has ‘broken down the natural inhibitions of children with regard to sexual conduct’.

    This research confirms why the UK has the highest teenage BIRTH and ABORTION rates in Western Europe !!!!!!!

    What’s the point of the legal age being 16 when you are being taught at school that it’s ok as long as you practice safe sex. Nothing about love, respect, serious relationships or more importantly abstinence! Oh and something needs to be done about BOYS, too! Girls can’t be the only ones responsible for resisting pressure you know. More sex education in schools = more teenage pregnancies= more abortions. One of the problems is that now in schools we are taught safe sex at an early age, and not abstinence. The message was basically that sex at a young age is fine as long as it’s practiced safely. It should be taught that at such a young age, neither protected or unprotected sex is ok. The message is simply not clear enough.
    IA
    London School of Islamics Trust
    http://www.londonschoolofislamics.org.uk

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  • Nobody
    Oct 23, 2013 - 9:38AM

    @Realist:
    Girls are NOT physically ready for child bearing at 14 or 15; they are biologically ready as soon as their period starts but that does not mean it’s time to have babies. Who on earth told you that?? Pakistani society seems to have convinced itself that if a girl has started her menstrual cycle (average age: 12) then she’s ready for babies. Utter nonsense. And what 15 year old is mentally ready for marriage anyway??

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