Child marriage is one of the major human rights violations, causing an irreparable and irretrievable loss and threatening the health and safety of younger girls all across the world. Child marriage is basically an unlawful and illegal practice in which boys and girls are married off before they reach a minimum age of adulthood. According to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), every year globally 12 million girls marry before the age of 18. Child marriage happens across the countries, cultures and regions. The practice of child marriage is prevalent in Pakistan, with the highest prevalence rate in the Sindh
province, particularly in rural and disadvantaged areas. According to UNICEF, Pakistan has the sixth highest number of absolute child brides in the world with the number of brides reaching to 1,909,000. Another report by WHO (Demographics of Child Marriage in Pakistan), says, 21 percent girls under the age of 18 and 3 percent of girls under 15 get married in Pakistan. The fact that early marriage deprives women of their fundamental right to childhood, education, health and opportunity can not be denied at
any cost. Apart from the denial of basic human rights, it also leaves them the most vulnerable to physical, mental and physiological abuse, more likely to confront domestic violence, early pregnancies and malnutrition issues. Early and child marriages are directly attributed to extreme poverty, deep- rooted gender inequalities, traditional practices, old customs and norms, cultural notions and lack ofeducation and awareness. Customs like Swara, where girls are married off to resolve disputes or debts, continues in rural areas and is often sanctioned by a council of elders. Watta Satta (bartering for brides)
and pait likkhi (marrying girls off before they are born or very young) also still occur in some backward areas of Sindh. The conceptualization of the girl child as “other’s property” who has to eventually move to her husband’s home prevents parents from investing in their daughter’s education and daughtersthus are married off at an early age to relieve parents of their burden. The act of child marriage is an offence in Pakistan legal system. This malpractice is restrained under Child Marriage Restraint act, 1929,
where minimal legal age of marriage is 16 years for girls and 18 years for boys. At the provincial level, in 2014 the Sindh Assembly unanimously adopted the Sindh Child Marriage Restraint Act, increasing the minimum age of marriage of girl to 18 years and increasing the punishment of offence as well.
Internationally, Pakistan has committed to eliminate child, early and forced marriage by 2030 in line with target of 5.3 of the Sustainable Development Goals. Pakistan has ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1990, which sets a minimum age of marriage of 18, and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in 1996, which obligates states to ensure free and full consent to marriage. Unfortunately, authorities in Pakistan have done very little to enforce the law. A high court in Pakistan has ruled that men can marry underage girls, under Sharia law,
after they have experienced their first menstrual cycle. Sharia law is the Islamic law derived from the teachings of the Quran and Sunnah of last prophet, which acts as a divine code or guide for living. The ruling was made by the Sindh High Court on Feb. 3 during the hearing of Huma Younus, a 14-year-old Catholic girl who was abducted, pressured to convert to Islam, and forced into child marriage. It is urged to the Pakistani government, and specifically to the Courts, to pay due respect to its international legal
commitments and to uphold its own laws on child and early marriages by reversing its erroneous decisions, bringing the culprits behind the bars and ensuring no child marriages in Pakistan from this point onwards.
(-The writer is a graduate of law from International Islamic University, Islamabad)