PESHAWAR: Traditions, poverty and social norms are the major causes behind child marriages, which can cause a number of issues to the young couples, social activists and healthcare experts say.
A child marriage is defined as the wedding taking place before the age of 18. Healthcare experts say that ending child marriage and early child bearing can reduce the population growth by one-tenth while the practice can also lead to a number of health problems. Iqbal Begum, a gynaecologist and former head of Gaynaecology Department at Hayatabad Medical Complex, told The News that a child marriage can also cause psychological issues as the couple are premature and cannot handle their babies.
"The weddings before the age of 14 can even cause obstetric fistula and other health problems," she added. Obstetric fistula is an ailment that renders a woman incontinent. A senior lawyer Noor Alam Khan said that anyone accused in child marriage case can be punished with up to seven years imprisonment. "However, weak implementation of the relevant law is the major hindrance to ending child marriages," he added.
Executive Director of the Centre for Communication Programmes Pakistan, Atif Butt, said the organisation organises training workshops on negative consequences of child marriages. He said the media can also play an important role in this regard.
"Child marriage denies girls their rights to education, wellbeing and to make vital decisions. Ending child marriages requires a holistic response that addresses both the underlying causes and policy imperatives," Atif Butt added.
Qamar Naseem, coordinator for Blue Veins, a non-governmental organisation, said the Sindh Assembly recently amended the relevant law and fixed 18 years as wedding age both for boys and girls but in KP, the marriage age is 16 for girls so far.
Quoting a 2012 survey, he said the child marriages ratio was 74 per cent in KP and 21 per cent in Pakistan. "Pakistan is among the top 20 countries with high prevalence of child marriages," he added.
According to a report of the Unicef, child marriage among girls is most common in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, and the 10 countries with the highest rates of child weddings are located in the two regions.
It adds that Niger has the highest overall prevalence of child marriages in the world. However, Bangladesh has the highest rate of marriage involving girls under age 15. South Asia is home to almost half (42 per cent) of all child brides worldwide; India alone accounts for one third of the global total.