A society transforms into a community when some specific sets of rules are being formulated according to their constituted individuals. Every society whether civilized or crude has its own inherited culture, celebrated traditions and values. It is known by its carefully excogitated principles known as its “norms”. Mankind has passed through a continuous process of evolution of perception, technological advancement and has tried to progress in every aspect of life. It has dealt with many problems at hands. Whereas, one aspect seems to be untouched that has been disregarded in many of the societies.
Child Marriage is one of such practice. It basically refers to an unlawful and illegal practice in which girls and boys are married off before they reach the age of puberty. According to UNICEF, child marriage can be defined as;
“a formal marriage or informal union before the age of 18”.
Under age marriage is considered as a violation of human rights. Child marriages are highly prevalent in Pakistan. This practice is largely found in rural areas. Incidents of child marriage occur frequently in Sukkur, Jacobabad, Badin, Larkana, Ghotki, Thatta and Mirpur Khas. In Pakistan, Sindh was the first province to pass a bill against child marriage that is the Sindh Child Marriage Restraint Act in 2013 (SCMRA). This was the updated version of the Child Marriage Restraint Act of 1929. Unfortunately, SCMRA is not implemented in Sindh. Similarly, in Pakistan there is Federal Child Marriage Restraint Act 1929 and Punjab Child Marriage Act 2015. According to UNICEF, Pakistan has the sixth number of absolute child marriages in world, where 21% of Pakistani girls are married at the age of 18. Additionally, rate of forced child marriages in Pakistan is increasingly high. Many of girls are forced to marry because of many of the socio-cultural reasons in the country. According to UK’s Forced Marriage Unit, Pakistan with 439 cases, ranked the highest among top four ‘focus’ countries in 2017, followed by Bangladesh, Somalia and India.
Here the question arises that why child marriages are highly pervasive in Pakistan? Child marriages are driven by gender inequality in Pakistan. The belief that girls are inferior than boys. Traditional customs are being practiced in rural communities. In Punjab, ‘Watta Satta’ is one of the evil norm in which there is a simultaneous marriage of brother-sisters pair from two households. Some Pakistani Muslim connects child marriages with Islam that their religion requires them to marry off their daughters when they reach to the age of puberty. Another cause of child marriage can be marked as the insufficient numbers of schools and colleges. There are not enough secondary schools in villages where girls can get admission after completing their studies at primary school. Ultimately, parents don’t find any other way than that of marriage. Poverty is also categorized as one of the reason behind early marriages. To lessen the burden of their responsibilities, parents marry their daughters.
Child marriage deprives women of their fundamental rights of childhood, health, education and opportunity. When girls are married at young age they are more likely to face domestic violence. It also leads them to most vulnerable mental, physical and psychological abuse. Child marriage is also one of the cause of death among girls aged between 15 to 19 during child birth.
On this issue, recently a bill was passed in senate to amend the Child marriage Restraint Bill 1929, to set the minimum age to be able for marriage as 18 years. This bill was presented by Senator Sherry Rehman who faced heated remarks by the Senators belonging to Islamist parties. Senator Ghafoor Haideri belonging to Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam objected this bill by saying it false with shariah law. Jamaat-e-Islami also opposed this bill. Sherry Rehman countered the arguments. She said that, several Muslim countries including Morocco, Oman, Bangladesh, Egypt, UAE, Turkey and Saudi Arabia have declared 18 years as the age of puberty. She added that, “we are not promoting Western values but trying to save innocent lives”. After a long debate and arguments, the Senate Chairman sought voting and bill was passed with opposition of five votes. Pakistan is a signatory to many International Human Rights Conventions including the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the South Asian initiative to end violence against children. Thus, Pakistan is legally bound to abolish child marriages.
I personally believe that this commonly practiced norm cannot be only tamed through legislation, but it requires the combined effort of government, civil society as well media. All the institutions should come up with productive strategies to protect the future of young girls.
It is the high time to call long term policies concerning women empowerment and awareness and most importantly effective law enforcement and implementation. Non-Governmental Organizations should also play their role in spreading awareness about the severe consequences of child marriages. Here the role of religious leaders is also very effective because people living in rural areas are mostly illiterate and they believe that only what religious leaders say that is true. The right to vote and eligibility for National Identity Card (NIC) is given at the age of 18 then why the age of puberty cannot be fixed at 18?
Therefore, government should take some measureable steps by providing empowerment, formal education, skill and training to young women in order to make Pakistan a state with respectably a low ratio of child marriages.