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March 1, 2021

Child brides

Editorial

 
March 1, 2021

The law in the country is perfectly clear. No girl under the age of 16 years can be married and any such marriage would be considered illegal. There has been talk over social media of a case in Chitral in which a man almost four times older, reportedly an MNA from Balochistan, married a 14-year-old girl. An investigation is being carried out by the police there. Such incidents come to our attention from time to time. But the reality is that many such marriages take place almost every day, somewhere or the other in the country. In cases like the one reported from Chitral, money is often involved. The father of the girl has given in an affidavit saying that his daughter was not married. But there does need to be an investigation given the power of the groom and the ability of the powerful and the wealthy to cover up crime.

More widely, we need to make it better known to parents and guardians why girls who are not yet of age should not be married. In the first place, there is a proven danger to their health and welfare as well as the welfare of the children they may bear. The birth of children by underage girls is one of the factors in a rapid population growth and also a factor in the extremely poor reproductive health of women. The fact that women in rural areas receive no medical treatment or help adds to the problem and contributes to the fact that so many women after multiple births are anaemic and malnourished. This has been seen in more than one study in Sindh. Beyond this, there are the social and emotional issues involved in the marriage of a child who has not yet reached maturity.

Marriage should always be a consensual event, with both parties agreeing to tie the knot. If the girl is not able to do so, because she is not of age or is not even asked, this violates the entire principle of marriage. Young women and girls need to be made aware of their right to refuse such marriages and the dangers that they hold for them. Only if we can run a large-scale campaign against child marriages and all the dangers – emotional, social, medical – that are inherent within them will we be able to work against such marriages and follow the law that has been laid out on paper but like so many other laws is not followed.