Could you imagine a fragile young girl, whose dream is to catch butterflies and play in streets, who aspires to complete her homework every day and who couldn’t sleep without listening to her grandma’s fairy tales? Could you imagine “that girl” to be married? How cruel some it seems to bear such a huge responsibility at merely the age of nine or ten? I am deeply grieved to write that in 2017, it is still a reality in Pakistan. In only 2016, 42% of world’s total account of this hideous crime happened in rural and urban areas of Pakistan.
Reasons for early marriages could be traced back to tribal rules and traditions. In most rural areas, (Sindh to be specific) girls are seen as flimsy being; on whom family honor is at stake. Adolescence in young girls and attraction of young lads to them, triggers alarm amongst family elders and therefore they prefer to “send” their liability to her ‘home where she actually belongs’. Some Mullahs argue with case of Holy Prophet’s (PBUH) marriage with Hazrat Ayesha (R.A). They debate over the fact that what is written in hadith couldn’t be wrong and if Hazrat Ayesha (R.A) could be married at age of nine, then early child marriage shouldn’t be considered crime according to criminal code of Pakistan. According to a well-known Islamic Scholar “Allama Kandhulvi”, Holy Prophet (PBUH) married Hazrat Ayesha (R.A), when she was 18 year old and not nine. Besides religious and traditional issues, some social issues include rising fees of colleges and universities, which most parents clearly cannot afford. Moreover, rising interest rates also discourage parents to take loan for dowry. In most cases, a groom and his family put pressure on the fact that is they can educate her this much, then they could also afford luxury dowry for their daughter. In order to overcome all these issues, girls are married in pre-teen and teenage years.
Marrying off young girls comes with its own devastating consequences. Their delicate bodies are developing into adulthood and therefore are not able to put up with burden of pregnancy, eventually leading to many complications; which includes development of fistula and sometimes even leads to abortion. Their under nourished bodies are not able to support development of fetus and their bones suffer from change in body’s shape and size. Next to this, a child born to a mother who is not physically and mentally ready to take responsibility suffers from psychological, emotional and physical well being throughout his/her life. Also, taboo issues like sexually transmitted diseases popularly known as Sexually transmitted diseases and practicing “safe sex” for family planning are not discussed and therefore contribute to a viscous cycle of negligence.
According to Child Marriage Restraint Act, 1929 and Section 310-A of Pakistan Penal Code (1860), legal age of marriage for a girl is 16 years and for a boy is 18 years. However, minor fine of few lakh and preventable jail sentence (due to increasing corruption) doesn’t cast fear amongst families of both parties. In recent years, several women empowerment NGOs’ campaigned to raise minimum legal age for girl child to be married. Action Aid is one such name. It argues that if age to vote is 18 years , then age to get married should also be no less than 18 years. The NGOs also suggested that gender roles are strongly practiced in Pakistan; Men plays major role as decision maker and should be focused and educated regarding this issue. Social advocates like “Reham Khan” put forward in their stance that Government of Pakistan was far more educated and liberal in its approach when it rectified United Nations Convention on the Rights of Child in 1990s and compare to its approach regarding early child marriage in 2016.
There is a strong need to raise bar and prevent poverty, illiteracy and several health issues which comes with early child marriage. Several international organizations are working their way up the ladder (filled with rage and oppression) to give young girls their right due of childhood innocence. A few amongst them are Breakthrough-Global, Care-Global, Girls not Brides-Global, Saarthi Trust-India, Seyaj-Yemen, UNICEF, UNPA, Aurat Foundation Pakistan and many others. These organizations are working day and night to raise awareness regarding this issue and to change social and cultural norms regarding this subject.
It is high time that we must pressurize not just Government of Pakistan and Mullahs to revise their policy regarding child marriage but also Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority to play its role. Television serials, plays, television commercials and movies play huge role in modifying approach towards different social issues. A recent success is “Udaari”, a drama serial that was aired on Hum TV and focused on rape of young girl. Instead of usual shame splashing, it helped viewer to understand that it’s nothing to be ashamed of and it is never the fault of victim. It showed that guilty must be sentenced and punished for his crime even if he is some influential political male person. Progressive television shows which could further focus on reality of child marriage and its brutalities faced by young bride in her in laws might help change and raise awareness amongst masses of rural-urban and urban population of Pakistan. Next step could be taken by Higher Education Commission-Pakistan along with provincial education boards to raise awareness regarding early marriage and to provide measures to prevent it. This could include seminars, conferences and slight improvement in curriculum for primary, secondary and tertiary education.
Grass Root Activism combined with efforts of Government will provide fruitful for years to come. If taken enough reforms and strategic action plans; a bright future is not far away. Pakistan might come out of its viscous cycle of poverty, debt, malnutrition and illiteracy.
I hope childhood in Pakistan remains full of coloring crayons and changing Barbie dresses. I hope in few years when the word “child marriage” comes to our mind, we might give a laugh about how children are playing with their “gudda and guddi”.I hope innocence prevails and Pakistan remains happy, healthy and prosperous.
About The Writer:
Noor-ul-Ain, she lives in Lahore “A future environmental scientist, she loves writing and reading about social issues.”