The laws we currently live under bar the marriage of girls under 16 years of age and boys under 18. But such marriages take place on a regular basis in our country, with pictures emerging occasionally of children as young as 10- or 12-year-old, decked out in the traditional finery of wedding garments. There has lately been renewed debate about the age of marriage, and also the matter of whether a child, married when he or she was underage, can undo a decision taken by relatives on their behalf.
The matter is one that has cropped up again and again, in one context or the other, with the Council of Islamic Ideology bringing it up during its most recent meeting; but there are some things that should be considered above all else when talking of child marriages. The undisputed fact is that early marriage and early pregnancy is harmful to the health of girls, who may not have reached maturity. Such pregnancies have been cited by experts as a leading cause for conditions such as fistula and other complications. It is also a fact that early marriages almost inevitably mean more pregnancies, draining the mother’s health, placing more financial strain on families and contributing to a growth in population size that we desperately need to control.
All these factors need to go into place when determining such matters. After all, they have an impact on the overall welfare of our nation. This must be kept in mind. The welfare of one half of the people who make up the nation — the women and also the children born to them — is also important. Marriage has many implications; it brings many responsibilities. For this reason, when it is discussed or opinions given out, the broader perspective also needs to be kept in mind. Social customs, after all, have a very wide impact. The issue of child marriage is a grave one. All the issues involved must be brought into the picture before making decisions regarding it, especially given the dire need to protect women in our country and guarantee them rights as equal citizens.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 13th, 2014.