“Child marriage allows a child to be nourished inside a child’s womb,” these were the opening words of Population Welfare Department’s secretary, Muhammad Saleem Raza. “I heard this phenomenon long time back and it still breaks my heart.”
Raza was speaking at the launch of the State of World Population 2013 report, titled ‘Motherhood in Childhood: Facing the Challenges of Adolescent Pregnancy’, on Wednesday.
The United Nations Population Fund’s (UNFPA) country representative Rabbi Royan, Nabila Malik of Rahnuma-Family Planning Association of Pakistan (FPAP), Ahson Rabbani of Aman Foundation and Youth Affairs Department special secretary Dr Riaz Ahmed Siddiqui were present at the event.
Sharing his views on utilising girls’ potential in the country, Raza recommended the incorporation of girls’ rights into development programmes and policies but expressed helplessness whenever such issues were touched upon as they were so deeply-rooted in the social and cultural boundaries. “Implementation of policies drafted on such issues has always been difficult as they are overshadowed by religious and social values. We can’t win alone. We have to unite to deal with such issues.”
According to population projections by the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics, the population of adolescent girls is 20 million in 2013 and as per findings of the Pakistan Demographic Health Survey 2012-2013, the fertility rate among girls between 15-19 years is 44 per 1000 women. Of this, about seven per cent have access to contraceptives.
It has been seen globally that enrolling girls in schools helps delay child marriage and early pregnancies, and creates better understanding about their physical, emotional and mental well being, said Royan. Awareness about the access to reproductive health information and services uplifts their status in the society, he added.
In Pakistan, childbearing adolescent girls are victims of child marriages, said Malik, adding that one of the deep-rooted causes of child marriage were the prevalence of customary practices, societal norms and traditions.
Lack of education, absence of life skills programmes and patriarchal mindset leaves them with no choice but to marry at early age, Malik added. She highlighted that a bill that calls for an increase in the age of marriage for girls has been presented in the Sindh Assembly and it is the responsibility of the media and the lawmakers to ensure it turns into a law.
Malik said that a woman’s social responsibility has been defined first and foremost in terms of marriage and childbearing, adding that child marriage leads to early pregnancy and high maternal death rates. “Girls who are impregnated before the age of 15 have a five per cent higher chance of dying during delivery.”
Ending child marriages will allow girls to stay in schools for longer, lead a healthy and safe life achieve their potential, and will inculcate in them the ability to raise healthy children, said Malik.
Rabbani said that the issue of motherhood in childhood will not resolve unless we consider it a personal issue. According to the Constitution, children aged between five-16 should be in schools but over 28 million children of this age group are not attending schools in Pakistan, said Rabbani.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 1st, 2013.