What is child marriage?
Throughout the world, marriage is considered as the happiest moment of everyone’s life but sadly the practice of child marriage gives no such reason for joyfulness. According to UNICEF, child marriage is defined as, “Marriage of a girl or boy before the age of 18 and refers to both formal marriages and informal unions in which children under the age of 18 live with a partner as if married.” Child marriage affects both girls and boys, but it affects girls disproportionately. Child marriage is a burning and vexed question these days not only in Pakistan but the whole world.
Why does child marriage happen?
To unearth reasons of child marriage is not a herculean task. Firstly, child marriage is a traditional practice that happens simply because it has happened for generations. Traditional practices often go unquestioned because they have been a part of society for a long time. Secondly, child marriage is also driven by patriarchal values and the desire to control female identity. Thirdly, many parents marry their daughters because they feel it is in her interest as girls are at high risk of sexual harassment. Fourthly, inadequate laws are another big reason of child marriages. Although many countries such as Pakistan have laws against child marriage, but these laws are outdated and are not enforced efficiently. Fifthly, gender discrimination is also a main reason of child marriage as society regards girls as the week ones or those who hold less or no power and devaluates and discriminates against girls.
Impact of child marriage?
It has a serious negative impact on the life of victim and society. Below are few of the ways in which child marriage affects the innocent child and socio-economic development of a society. To begin with, child marriages have flagrant effects on victim’s health. According to WHO, pregnancy complications which lead to death are twice more common in pregnant girls less than nineteen years of age as compared to those who are pregnant after twenties. Similarly, the psychological and physical implications of forced sexual relations at an early stage cannot be gainsaid. Moreover, children of ten have to give up their education as they are expected to perform household activities and hereby hinders the independency of girls. Furthermore, there is a very close relation between child marriage and domestic violence. Most cases of domestic violence are of those who were married early or forcefully. Last but not the least, child marriage is the denial of basic human rights which are vital for the mental, emotional and physical development of the child.
Pakistan’s current situation:
According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), 03% of girls in Pakistan are married before the age of 15, and 21% before 18. Another report published by WHO states that, child marriages are mostly practiced in the rural areas of the country and more than 140 million underage girls will get married by 2020. In Pakistan the minimum legal age of marriage is 16 years for girls and 18 years for boys Under the Child Marriage Restraint Act 1929. Among four provinces, only Sindh passed the “Child Marriage Restraint Bill” in 2013 prohibiting marriage of children below 18 years whereas in other provinces is 16 years. Pakistan has committed to eliminate child and forced marriages by 2030 with target 5.3 of the Sustainable Development Goals. Pakistan has also ratified several other conventions like “Convention on the right of the child” in 1990 which requires minimum age of marriage 18.
What is solution?
As every problem has some solutions, same is the case with child marriages. Ending child marriage requires work across all sectors and at all levels. Laws that set a minimum age of marriage are primary way to safeguard girls and boys. Government needs to have clear and consistent legislation that establishes 18 as the minimum age of marriage. International center for research on women (ICRW) has provided a comprehensive strategy to counter child marriages by ensuing ways: empower girls with information, skills and support networks, provide economic support and incentives to girls and their families, educate and rally parents and community members, enhance girls’ access to a high-quality education, and encourage supportive laws and policies. Besides that role of media and progressive religious scholars is also pivotal in this regard.
Let it can be said in unambiguous words of Quaid about child marriages, “I cannot believe that there can be a divine sanction for such evil practices as are prevailing, and that we should, for a single minute, give our sanction to the continuance of these evil practices any longer. How can there be such a divine sanction to this cruel, horrible, disgraceful, inhuman practice that is prevailing in India?”