Child marriage is very common menace in Pakistan and is deeply ingrained in traditional, societal, and customary norms. Yet it indicates a severe abuse of the human rights of girls. One in three girls in Pakistan get married before becoming 18 years old (Demographic and Health Survey 2012-13).
A girl’s access to a sound and secure childhood, a good education that can lead to better employability, civic and political empowerment are all violated through early marriages. With 1821 child brides in 2020, Pakistan was placed sixth among nations with the highest number of child brides. Girls lose their childhood and future opportunities when they are married as minors. Girls who marry are less likely to complete their education and are more vulnerable to abuse, marital rape, and health problems. Furthermore, child marriage puts girls at risk for unsafe births, ulceration, STDs, and maybe even death. Also, teenage girls are more likely than women in their 20s to pass away due to difficulties during pregnancy. Firstborn children of women who were 16 years old, 17 years old, and 18-19 years old at the time of birth experienced death rates that were, respectively, 2-4 times, and 1.2-1.5 times higher than those of mothers who were 23 to 25 years old. This is an unfortunate truth, that while the humankind has reached the moon and mars, our women are still dying from unsafe births.
This threat has also been documented in a number of previous articles. However, the latest event of the forced marriage of a young girl from Balochistan, who was just five years old, has shaken me from the core. The girl’s father filed a FIR with the Khuzdar Police Station alleging that his daughter was forced into marriage as a result of regional and tribal beliefs. After the FIR was filed, the Federal Shariah Court Chief Justice took suo-motu notice of the situation and stated that the act appeared to be against both the 1973 Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan and Islam.
Factors behind forced marriages in Pakistan
There are several factors why early age marriages are prevalent in Pakistan. The majority of these causes include: permissive legislation; a failure to enforce existing laws; the treatment of children as slaves; a primitive feudal class fabric; lack of public awareness of the negative effects of child marriages; widespread poverty; Watta Satta (Weddings between the children of siblings or the exchange of girls in marriage between two households.) underlying trafficking; Concept of Vani (Another harmful tradition is the offering of girls, frequently minors, in marriage or enslavement to a family who has wronged them as payment to settle disputes) and a lack of political will on the part of the government. The inadequacy of birth registration system and lack of responsiveness is a major contributor to forced marriages. The age of the child or children at the time of marriage can be falsified because birth registration for minors, especially girls, is hardly given priority here. Moreover, there is no unified, impartial, or robust child rights associations that might keep an eye on violations of children’s rights, specially female teens.
The Prevention of Anti-Women Practices (Criminal Law Amendment) Act 2011, which has “reinforced protections for women against discrimination and abuse,” was passed in Pakistan in 2012, according to the country’s National UPR report to the HRC. Forced marriages, child marriages, and other social customs that are harmful to women are being made illegal.
The following headings represent how the Committee on the Rights of the Child addressed the problem of child or early marriages in its Final Report and Recommendations (2009): the child’s definition, Non-discrimination, respecting the child’s opinions, teenagers’ health, harmful societal customs, Trafficking and selling
The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, whose Article 16 affirms that every woman has the right to get into matrimony “just with her free and unconditional approval,” have both been signed and ratified by Pakistan.
Pakistan has joined the Child Rights Convention, which requires state parties to uphold children’s rights to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion in Article 14.
The Sindh Provisional Assembly unanimously approved the Bill on November 2016 to put an end to forced marriages and conversions. The bill was compellingly prevented by the agitation of the Islamist groups and parties, and was never enacted into law.
First, it seems that nobody in Pakistan, including a lot of women, cares about the precarious status of women. In reality, some educated working women are subjected to so much harassment from men, their families, and society at large that they lack the strength to fight back against their critics. Therefore, the small group of women representatives campaigning for the rights of marginalised women in Pakistan deserve special recognition for their bravery in standing up for and promoting women’s rights despite the fact that doing so would subject them to harassment from males and society.
The government should spend on education particularly in marginalized areas of Pakistan where majority girls have no access to even primary education. Instead of just being a consequence of financial adversity, social conservatism may also contribute to the educational disparity between boys and girls. Long-term policy considerations need to be taken. Lack of maternal education would have a detrimental impact on future generations and is, therefore, just as important as boys’ education because it is believed that mothers’ education plays a significant part in children’s overall development and a complete generation.
Forced marriage victims are also denied access to their most basic yet important right, good education. Here, I want to share a story of a 17 year old advocate fighting child marriages from Swat. Given that it was customary in her household for girls to enter into marriage when they are old enough to fetch water, she was getting married to a taxi driver just at tender age of 11. In an interview, she stated:
“I bravely told my family that if they get me married to that person, I will file a case against them in law. Firstly, them and my community didn’t support me, even denigrated me. But now they do. One human being with conviction can bring the change”
Moreover, police need to be given the capacity to look into the culprits and take appropriate action. I definitely do not mean “Freedom From Law” or “No Accountability” when I talk about empowerment. To ensure that the complaints filed get noticed and are addressed, rigorous policies regarding the institution of police must be devised and put into effect along with increase in the severity of punishments for such activities.
All those engaged in a child marriage, including the parents of the bride and groom as well as the person who solemnises the marriage; the NikahKhwan shall face serious punishment.
The legal age for marriage should be the same for both sexes, which is 18 years. However, the system for registering births needs to be improved. Nadra needs to implement a digital birth registration system that is systematic and reliable.