A harmful practice

May 7, 2023

Pakistan continues to face the issue of child marriage

A harmful practice


hild marriage is defined as a marriage involving a person below the age of 18 and is illegal according to the Child Marriage Restraint Act (1929) and the constitution. Despite legal provisions against it, child marriage remains prevalent in Pakistan, particularly in many areas.

According to a 2020 report by UN Women, Pakistan has the 6th highest number of girls married before legal age. While both boys and girls can be victims, girls are disproportionately affected due to the conservative nature of the society. Early marriage often causes the girls to give up their education and career aspirations and suffer physical and emotional violence as well as the health problems associated with early pregnancy and childbirth.

Early marriage also deprives girls of their right to independence and autonomy. They become financially dependent on their husbands and are unable to make important decisions regarding their lives and those of their children. This puts an enormous mental and emotional burden on girls, who are expected to take on the responsibilities of a family at a very young age. Girls from rural and remote areas, with low literacy rates and a lack of economic opportunities, are particularly vulnerable to child marriage. In some areas child marriages are driven by economic and honour issues.

To combat the problem of child marriage in Pakistan, there is a need for a multifaceted approach that addresses the underlying causes of the practice, including poverty, lack of education and ingrained customs favouring the practice. This must involve raising awareness about the negative consequences of child marriage, providing access to education and economic opportunities for girls, and strengthening legal frameworks to ensure that perpetrators are held accountable for their actions. Only by addressing these issues can Pakistan hope to eradicate the harmful practice of child marriage and ensure a better future for its girls.

Sindh Assembly was the first legislature in Pakistan to pass a child marriage restraint law, raising the minimum age of marriage to 18 for both girls and boys and making it punishable by law. The Pakistan Penal Code has been revised to strengthen laws related to child marriage and penalise offenders. However, despite the laws, the incidence of child marriage remains high in the country. A UNICEF report from 2018 found that approximately 18 percent of the girls in Pakistan are married too early.

According to a 2020 report by UN Women, Pakistan has the 6th highest number of girls married before legal age.

The Punjab Child Marriage Restraint Act is being drafted currently. The minimum age for girls to marry is still 16. Despite the efforts of international organisations, the civil society and commitments made by the governments with regard to international conventions such as the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women, child marriage continues in Pakistan.

I have interviewed many girls who were married at a young age and found that their lives were affected by their families’ decisions. While health and human rights consequences are usually mentioned in advocating against child marriage in Pakistan, it is also important to consider the economic growth and development costs. Girls make up more than half of Pakistan’s population. Their contributions to the country’s progress is crucial.

The recent campaign by the UNICEF-South Asia to end child marriage has faced significant backlash from certain elements in South Asia, including Pakistan. Many have either misunderstood the campaign’s message or are unwilling to see an end to child marriage. In Pakistan, child marriage is tied mostly to traditional thinking and perceptions. It has resulted in gender inequality and triple discrimination against women. The United Nations has declared child marriage a violation of human rights and set a goal to end it by 2030 through the Sustainable Development Goals. While it is challenging to end child marriage in Pakistan, it is not impossible.

It is vital in this regard to work with religious leaders, community leaders and young people to raise awareness about education for girls and empower them through skill-building programmes. Girls should be encouraged to pursue their dreams and choose their career paths. They should be able to express their ideas to make a positive impact on their communities.

The government should focus on addressing the underlying social and economic reasons that lead to child marriage. An action plan should be formulated urgently to tackle this problem, as it is a significant infringement of human rights and contributes to other societal issues such as malnutrition, poverty, illiteracy and underdevelopment.

The writer is a journalist and Tweets @askayeshashaikh

A harmful practice