Child marriage is a common practice in Pakistan nowadays. Child marriage is the marriage of a child at an early age under the age of 18. Child brides are more likely to experience domestic violence as they are not ready for marriage mentally. According to the World Health Organisation, child brides who have children may also be psychologically not prepared to become mothers at an early age. In the same manner, our country has the sixth-highest number of absolute child brides in the world. 47.5 per cent of the current married women were under the age of 18.
Pakistan ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) in 1990, pledging commitment to protect the rights of children, as well as the elimination of child marriage.
But underage marriage is still a problem in several parts of Pakistan.
Citing data from the Pakistan Demographic and Health Survey (PDHS) 2017-18, Qamar Naseem, a rights activist from the city of Peshawar, says 3.3% of girls are married off under the age of 15 while 18.3% of girls married off are under the age of 18.
Across the country, about 4.7% of boys are married off under the age of 18, he added.
Naseem saidchild marriage is notably higher in Pakistan’s newly merged tribal areas, where around 35% of all child marriages in the country take place. Women’s rights activist Mukhtaran Mai says most girls in rural parts of the Punjab province are married off at a young age due to local customs and traditions.
“Exchange marriage — or watta satta — is quite common. Young girls are also married off to settle blood money, tribal disputes and property feuds. They are given away like animals,” Mai said. Lahore-based women’s rights activist Shazia Khan says Pakistan’s clergy play the biggest role in underage marriages, citing past opposition to legislation seeking to prohibit underage marr iages from religious party members. When such a law was enacted in the state of Sindh some years ago, it was fiercely resisted by religious clerics. A federal bill seeking to punish those responsible for underage marriages was also censured by clerics in 2014. “They have always opposed bills seeking to ban underage marriages. The entire scientific community confirms that it is detrimental to women’s health but they misinterpret Islam, justifying the marriages of underage girls on religious grounds,” said Shazia Khan.
Nasreen Jalil, a Pakistani politician and former chairperson of the Senate committee on human rights, says that the country’s feudal customs and patriarchy are to blame for child marriages.
“I believe the marriage age should be 18 across the country and those who violate this should be dealt with,” she said.
Tipu Sultan, a Pakistan-based doctor, warned about health complications that could arise during early marriages and pregnancies. He says anemia, hormonal disorders and vaginal fistula are just some of the problems young brides are at risk of facing. “It also causes malnutrition because when underage girls get pregnant, their babies need nutrition which they receive from mothers’ bodies. But since mothers themselves go through a phase of growth, how can they provide nutrition to their babies and keep themselves healthy at the same time?” he said.
Despite numerous laws were made to eradicate child marriage but the child marriage cases are still on the rise in Pakistan.