Fasiha Farrukh's Blog
The Endangered Futures
Date: 08 March 2017
“It was one evening reaching home after playing with my friends that I was informed that I will be getting married the very next day. Only last week, I had my doll married-off to my best friend’s doll and I thought things will be that way, but they were horrendous,” said Amina.
Amina was married off at the age of 13 years to a 45-year-old man due to the money settlement case that her father had failed to pay. Amina conceived within three months of her marriage and faced child birth complications due to her poor health and young age. This left her unable to conceive again.
Around 700 million women globally have the same story, where they are married before turning 15 or 18 years of age. Gender inequality is the main reason for most of the child brides where girls are the easiest trading objects to reconcile matters.
Child marriages is a global phenomenon and according to UNICEF statistics, prior to the age of 18, a total of 15 million girls get married annually. This means every two seconds, a girl gets married, and in just a minute, 28 girls lose their childhood as a result of the decision that they did not make. These statistics pose a serious threat to the future of 1.1 billion girls worldwide.
The practice has very grim consequences for society as a whole. There is an increase in the number of domestic violence victims and the chances of contracting HIV/AIDS rises as elderly age partners could have had many sexual partners. Other than those, childbirth complications, chances of having fistula and malnourishment are common results of early marriage. Moreover, many girls never get to see school or complete their education and thereby get economically weaker.
Other factors endorsing child marriage
Factors other than gender inequality that result in child marriage are poverty, cultural norms, and insecurity, which are all interconnected. All these factors are major obstacles towards ending child marriage even if someone takes the initiative to end it. In most communities, generational traditions are too difficult to escape from, which often results in disassociation from the community.
Transferring the girl’s economic burden to the spouse through marriage is another common concept in many communities. A lack of education is the main basis behind this state of mind.
In other situations, families are also concerned about a daughter’s sexuality as it can harm her honour if she engages in a relationship before marriage. From the insecurity perspective, many parents marry off their daughters at an early age to protect them from any form of assault or harassment. Moreover, the suppressing social culture does not allow any girl to raise her voice against it or inform others about injustice being done to her.
Child marriage in Pakistan
Currently, Pakistan is ranked at number 6 in terms of the highest number of child brides. This means around 1,875,000 women married-off at under 18 years of age.
Pakistan has been unfortunate in that it did not revise its Child Marriage Law since its inception. The only bill implemented is The Child Marriage Restraint Act 1929, which suggests at least 16 years of age for females and 18 years for males. The act was first introduced by Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan to the British India Legislative Assembly.
After more than 60 years, Sindh Assembly passed the Child Marriage Restraint bill in 2014, raising the minimum marriageable age to 18 for both genders. In case of any violation the parties are held liable, and with a hefty penalty. The proposition of a law stirred another disagreement in the region over the age limit of girls. The religious body, the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) argued the bill was un-Islamic and a child must get married once reaching to puberty.
The bill remained a topic of discussion in three of the provinces, which have not ratified it. The Parliament also refused to pass the bill after the comments of CII, which indicates the influence of customs over logic in the country.
Many NGOs are operating to create alertness in rural areas, but this tradition is also common in urban areas where girls willingly opt for early marriage. Again, with limited knowledge they are unable to asses that this has long-term side effects on their health and economic well-being.
Increasing numbers of underage, unhealthy, and uneducated inhabitants are also a liability for a country's economy. Girls/women account for half of Pakistan's population and that population is way behind in contributing anything to the country's GDP. Even the victims of child marriage are unable to support themselves due to zero education and no skills, and that ultimately leads to poverty.
The course of action
Regardless of having law in place, child marriage is an unending issue that is affecting society. References suggest that approximately 21 per cent of girls are married before their eighteenth birthday while 3 per cent are married before turning 15. The growing number of marriages and lack of data in this regard is an alarming situation.
Due to the strong religious and traditional beliefs, people are often reluctant to report such incidents. Although, the recently presented bill gives authority to the police calling such act as cognisable. Cognisable act is an authority given to the police officer where he can make an arrest and call for investigation without court order. Awareness in this matter is urgently needed so that people understand that child marriage is nothing more than abusive of children.
The state of Pakistan was one of those countries which aimed to halt child marriage by 2030 through adopting the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Furthermore, as part of SAIEVAC (South Asia initiative to End Violence Against Children) the onus to end this gruesome tradition is on Pakistan.
Action against child marriage can only be taken when there is authority to combat it. Women and girls who have been through child marriage must be provided with the necessary platforms to receive counselling and, education and learn skills that secure their future. The overall efforts in this regard are limited for now, but with awareness and stern government actions, there is the possibility of overcoming the problem, or as a minimum reducing the number of child marriages.