The scourge of child marriage continues in Pakistan

A 12-year-old girl in Pakistan was recently rescued at the last moment before her father married her to a 72-year-old man in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

She was lucky due to the timely intervention of the police but not all girls in the South Asian country are fortunate enough.

As per UNICEF data, Pakistan is home to nearly 19 million child brides.

One in six girl children in the country are married in childhood, the data showed. 

In Pakistan, the legal age for a girl’s marriage is 16 except in Sindh province, where the legal age of marriage for girls and boys is 18.

Pakistan has one of the highest rates of child marriage in the world, with an estimated 30 per cent of girls married before 18, media reports said.

Experts believe the data reflects the tip of the iceberg and the underlying situation is far more alarming.

Tahira Habib from the Lahore-based Human Rights Commission of Pakistan once told DW that she had received reports of 99 cases of underage marriage in 2022.

“But this is just the tip of the iceberg as very few such cases are reported, because reporting them would stigmatize the family that does so,” she said.

Tahira Habib said the cases of child marriage remain dominant in tribal regions of the country.

Yasmin Lehri, a former lawmaker from Baluchistan’s capital Quetta, told DW almost all girls in rural and tribal areas of the province were married before the age of 18.

“In urban areas, because of growing awareness, girls are married at 18 or older […] but in the rest of the province the situation is very grim,” she said.

She said the main reason for girls to meet such a tragic stage of life in Pakistan lies in poverty and economic factors.

An editorial published in Dawn News last year said girls who marry as children suffer tremendously.

“They suffer complications during childbirth and register higher maternal mortality. Most of them are not allowed to go to school — another cruel tradition in communities where young brides are the norm. Because children are not allowed to have a say in major life decisions, these marriages are frequently forced,” the editorial said.

The newspaper editorial described child marriage as a serious human rights violation.

“South Asia’s policymakers must realise how prevalent the practice is and act fast before the future of millions more girls is destroyed,” Dawn News Editorial said.

In a 2020 report, UN Women said the impact of child marriage is usually associated with health and nutrition, fertility and population growth, child mortality, educational attainment, participation in the labour force, women’s agency and gender-based violence.

“The health and human rights-based angles are frequently used to advocate for ending child marriage, but it is often neglected that early age marriage also negatively impacts the economic growth and development of a nation. According to a study by the World Bank in 2017, child marriage will cost developing countries trillions of dollars by 2030,” the report said.

UN Women said child marriage is prevalent due to several reasons including deeply entrenched traditions and customs, poverty, lack of awareness and/or access to education, and lack of security.
The findings of a research published in National Center for Biotechnology Information website, said that child marriage is used by families as a protective strategy in a context of economic insecurity. 

“It is also used to protect young women from sexual exploitation and to prevent consensual sexual relations prior to marriage. Young people, particularly women, have limited freedom to make decisions about marriage, due to strict norms that dictate obeying elders and limit young women to childbearing and domestic roles,” it said. 

With the occurrence of the latest incident in KP, it is time now for the Shehbaz Sharif-led government to deal with the societal evil strictly and ensure no more girls suffer in the nation which is already witnessing several actors attempting to muzzle the voice of independent women.


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