There seems to be very slow progress in our society when it comes to weeding out the practice of child marriage in an effective manner. Recently, a member of the Punjab Assembly, Mary Gill, raised the issue of the minimum age of marriage at a meeting of the Parliamentary Youth Caucus, which comprises 84 MPAs. She said the caucus wanted to make the presence of CNICs necessary for marriage registration to ensure both people involved are adults, and that earlier attempts to raise the marriage age had been thwarted because of the influence of certain religious groups. In March, Punjab passed the Child Marriage Restraint Act, becoming the second province after Sindh to crack down on underage marriage. But according to Ms Gill, save for a few exceptions, which includes punishing clerics over administering such marriages and imposing harsher fines, the Act is the same as its 1929 predecessor and children under the age of 18 can still be forced into marriage.
Child marriage remains a long-standing issue in Pakistan. Last year, the UN estimated that more than 140 million girls younger than 18 will be married to men as old as 60 in the next decade and most such marriages would be in South Asia. At present, according to data provided by an international NGO, over 40 per cent of brides in Pakistan are less than 18 years of age, while eight per cent of women married in adolescence become mothers between the ages of 15 and 19. Child marriage is just a socially-acceptable name for child sexual abuse, taking away the basic right of consent that should be there in every marriage. There are cases where marriages are decided for children in infancy. It is an oppressive trend on many levels and impacts at least more than one generation. A child bride has little access to health, education, growth and development. Young mothers’ lives remain at risk as do the lives of their offspring. No law against child marriage is any good if it cannot stop the marriage of under-18s.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 2nd, 2015.