Child marriages: The world needs to take action against the crime that robs innocence

In the era of science and technology,the Pakistani media was hit by a dreadful news from Punjab where a 20-year-old girl was forced to tie the knot with her 10-year-old cousin so that family property stays within family. This case may have slight differences from others, where a small girl is forced to marry a man twice or thrice of her age.Something similar happened recently in Khiprovillage,where a 10-year-old girl named Pathani Mangrio was forced to marry JeetmalMehr 50, in order to settle loan taken by her family that they could not pay back.

Unfortunately, child marriage in Pakistan has been given a “cultural cover.”According to the report of Girls Not Brides almost 21% girls are married before the age of 18.Another survey conducted by Gallup opines, that Pakistan has one of the highest number of child brides in the world, whilst almost a quarter of girls are married before age of 18.Mostly child marriages take place in remote areas of Baluchistan, Southern Punjab, Khyber Paktunkhwa and Sindh.The early marriages are done in order to settle disputes, develop alliance between two families, the enticement of bride price, poverty in exchange of debts, dowry, illiteracy, social pressures, obsolete customs and traditions or in order to preserve archaic mindset – one which is about guarding women’s honor.Here the family takes the decision of her life regardless of dreadful consequences. The repercussions a girl can face after her marriage are in the form of verbal abuse,sexual abuse, physical abuse, domestic violence and marital rape. Girls involved in these type of marriages also become prone to dangerous diseases like HIV/AIDS.

The Pakistani society, entrenched in the menace of gender discrimination, structural inequality, lack of education, increase in poverty has made it a place so vulnerable to vieux jeu practices of honor killing and child marriages. In 2016 the Save The children report Every last girl: Free to live, Free to learn and Free from harm ranked Pakistan 88th out of 144 countries in terms of underage marriages.

It is seen as a common trend that more pregnancies take place in underage marriages as compared to normal marriages. These ill-timed pregnancies occur in young mothers before their bodies are fully developed, which results in a high rate of maternal and child mortality. And without doubt, this is one of the main reasons that Pakistan’s Maternal Mortality Ratio(MMR) still stands at high rate of 276 per 100,000 live births. Meanwhile, Pakistan’s new born Mortality Rate is 55 per 1,000 live births.

These juvenile marriages affect the economy of a country on a large scale as the report of Girls Not Brides opines, that by ending child marriage, countries can increase their national earnings on average by 1%.

Pakistan being the newly elected member of UN human rights council, and also being party to the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of the Child and other core conventions, has to take necessary steps to fulfill its commitments, which it has made to these international conventions and councils.Pakistan has also failed to fulfill its Millennium Development Goals, specifically related to maternal and child health. Appalling it is to note that the Senate Standing Committee on 11th October last year, on the International Day of the Girl Child, turned down the Child Marriages Restraint (Amendment) Bill 2017, terming it as un-Islamic,and also due to the absence of mover Senator Sehr Kamran.This bill simply strives to fix age limit of girls for marriage from 16 to 18 years of age.

Not all but many Muslim states have also decided to increase the marriageable age seeing the magnitude of peril increasing day by day. But, to much dismay, Pakistan seems far behind in taking this necessary step. Bahrain has determined the marriageable age to be 21 years for both women and men, Libya 20 years, Eritrea declares 21  for men whilst 18 for women, Algeria fixes 19. While United Arab Emirates,Lebanon,Albania,Morocco,Oman,Bangladesh, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan,Kazakhstan, Kosovo, Mauritania, Comoros, Sierra Leone,Djibouti, Qatar and even Nigeria has also affirmed the marriageable age to be 18 years. Numerous Islamic countries, in order to avoid underage marriages, have affirmed a minimum 17 years marriageable age. Meanwhile,others are also striving to raise the marriageable age as these underage marriages, without doubt, disrupt the education of a child, disturb their physical and mental development, jeopardize their health and limit their opportunities.

This is all despite the existence of the Convention on the Rights of Child,United Nations Convention on the Rights of Child, Declaration of the Rights of the Child 1959, Minimum Age Convention 1973 and other regional documentations such as European Convention on the Exercise of Children’s Right (ECECR) 1996 and African Charter on Rights and Welfare of Child (ACRWC) 1990.Additionally, conferences of Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) on child protection also took place in Sudan in 2007 and in Egypt in 2009. Indubitably, girls are the most common and ill-protected victims of child marriages.

The report of Save The Children in 2016 states that around the world, in every seventh second, a girl under the age of 15 is forced to marry. On the other hand,the United Nations children agency UNICEF also states that about 14 million girls under the age of 18 are entangled by child marriage every year.

Augmented growth is taking place in this awry and antediluvian practice.As according to UNICEF report, Niger stands first with 77% as three out of four girls over there are married before the age of 18,Bangladesh ranks second with 74%, Chad with percentage of 69 stands 3rd and Mali fourth with 64%.The recent report published in The Independent from UK also reveals the astonishing facts of child marriage in US where more than 200,000 children were married over the past 15 years.Across the United States (US) the minimum age for a couple to get married is 18, but every state has exemptions. While also under legal loopholes, or certain circumstances such as parent consent and early pregnancy, a child is allowed to marry.   In spite of all this, a girl as young as 10 was among the minors to get married in US. Last year, in the month of March, New Jersey’s governor, a strong supporter of Donald Trump, Chris Christie declined to sign a law that would have made his state the first to ban child marriage.

At the same time, wars and humanitarian crisis without doubt have served to be robust reasons which have contributed towards the increase of child marriages around the globe.Children, especially girls, caught in the middle of conflict zones, are more immune of becoming child brides, as many refugee families have married off their daughters for safety or coping mechanisms. As Misty Buswell, Save The Children’s Advocacy and Communication Director for the Middle East says in one of her interviews, “A lot of families see marrying off their daughter as one way to protect them.” She also quotes a study held in Jordan a couple of years ago, “this study states that one in four Syrian Refugee girls between the age of 15 to 17 was married, double the rate from before the start of conflict”. While on the other,the humanitarian crisis can also become a reason for early pregnancies and underage marriages as said by Save the Children in a CNN news report from 2016. The closing of schools in the aftermath of the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone led to an estimated 14,000 pregnancies. Yet nearly 117 countries around the world allow underage marriages to happen according to Pew research Centre.

One of the reports of World Economic Forum points towards the drastic condition the world will develop in terms of these underage marriages.The report opines that if the current trend of underage marriage continues,then the number of girls who marry as children will reach nearly up to one billion by 2030.

Child marriage is nothing more than robbing a child of his or herchildhood and innocence, and robbing is a crime.This crime should not only be stopped in Pakistan but all around the globe.

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2 Comments

  1. Farooq says

    You will be seen by the ONE whom’s Law you are challenging.

  2. Usama Virk says

    Extraordinary piece of writing, this issue needs to be dealt with as soon as possible. Well Done

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