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   April  04, 2014


Early Marriages in Pakistan

Marriage is considered as a moment of celebration, happiness and starting of a new life, if it occurs in early age then it becomes a curse and problem. According to UNICEF Early marriage is“a formal or informal union before the age of eighteen which includes either one or both partners being children”. Early marriage is prevalent issue in Pakistan which has very negative impact on health, wealth and society. This article will address the causes of early marriages, the problems created by early marriages in Pakistan, and some recommendations to prevent or solve this issue.

Early marriage is a worldwide problem. In 2012, sixty million child marriages took place worldwide, and 42% of them were from Pakistan (Zia, 2013).Researches shown that the exact prevalence of early marriages in Pakistan is unknown due to not being registered and falsifying ages. However, small scale studies taken from available data shows that early marriage is very prevalent in Pakistan. According to Godha, Hotchkiss, & Gage (2013) based on the available data the prevalence of early marriages is 50% in Pakistan.

Early marriage is practiced all over Pakistan, butits frequency differs from area to area. Mostly early marriages took place in rural areas than urban areas. According to Zia in 2012, out of 42% of early marriages in Pakistan 24% were from rural areas and 18% were from urban areas. Similarly, Nasrullah, Zakar, &Kramer, (2013) stated the data from Pakistan Demographic and Health survey shows that 71% of early marriages were from rural areas of Pakistan and 30 percent were from urban. Thus, it proves that most early marriages take place in rural areas of Pakistan than urban areas.

Even though, early marriage applies to both genders. According to Population Council the girls are more likely to get married early than the same age of boys. One reason beside this difference is child marriage Restraint Act (1929) .This Act declared the age of marriage for boys 18 years, but it is 16 year for girls’ i. eless. Consequently, girls suffer more than boys. It is mostly seen that little young girls get married with aged men in Pakistan. Godhaetal. (2013) did a survey to compare early marriages among four countries i.e. Pakistan, Nepal, India, and Bangladesh. Result shows that Pakistan was on second number among them, in girls having husband greater than 10 years older than them.

There are many causes of early marriages in Pakistan. The first and foremost common cause is illiteracy. It appears to play an important role in the girl’s getting married early. Uneducated girls are at more risk of early marriage than the educated ones. According to international center for research on woman (2014) the chance of early marriage for an uneducated girl is six times higher than educated girl i.e.60% vs. 10%.The reason is, being uneducated girls are either not able to raise voice for their rights or not aware about the consequences of early marriages.

In Pakistan religious believes also leads to child marriage. Now a days topic of “early marriage allowed in Islam” is highly under discussion. People belief that a child marriage is sunnah in Islam as prophet (PBUH) married Aisha when she was 6 years old. Furthermore, in Pakistan many religious scholars belief “Under Islamic law children should be allowed to get married once they reach puberty”. These types of believes lead to early marriages.

Another common cause of early marriage in different areas of Pakistan is lack of awareness. Children are not aware about their right and about the consequences of the early marriage. Moreover, they even don’t know what is going on with them therefore; they happily accept the proposal of marriage. Kamla, who got married when she was 12 says “When my parents mentioned marriage I had no idea what marriage even meant,”Likewise, many parents are also not aware about the consequences of early marriage.

One more cause of early marriage is sense of insecurity. Many parents marry off their girls early due to fear of exposure to sexual abuse and rape. They think marriage will protect their girls from premarital sex and pregnancy. In addition, if girls remain unmarried by 15, people begin to doubt their character and health. Therefore, to decrease the chance of passing any condemn on their girl, parents arrange early marriage. In particular, early marriage is considered as a way of protecting honor, safety and girl’ schastity, so it is practiced.

Dowry system is another major factors underpinning early marriage. In many areas of Pakistan like Karachi, Islamabad and Lahore, parents of girls are obliged to give money and gifts to the groom’s family, perpetuate child marriages. This is because the dowry demands mostly increases with the age of the girls. According to Nasrullah&Bhatti(2012) the younger the bride the lower the dowry demand and the older the bride the higher the demand.Therefore, girls are married early by their families. Otherwise, if the girls getolderthe dowry will increase .As parents cannot be able to pay the demand of the dowry their girls will remain unmarried .Thus, to keep away from such unpleasant situation parents marry them off at their early ages.

Poverty is another contributing factor to early marriages in Pakistan. Poor families considered their daughters as an economic burden. Parent marries off their girls early so the number of feeding members can be lower. According to international center for research on woman (2010) early traditional marriages of Girls living in poor families are two times higher than girls living in higher income families.

Tradition and custom is also a major factors underpinning early marriage. For instance, one custom that leads to early marriage is sawara. According to this custom little girl are married to enemies’ family to solve a blood feud between the families. This custom called bada in Sindh, and vani in Punjab, Another custom is wattasatta which is exchange marriage. If a boy wants to marry then in return he hasto marry his sister off to his son in law. They do the exchange even the age difference is very high between girl and boy. Similarly, another custom practice in tribal areas of Pakistanis PaitLikkhi, according to this custom families promise to marry their children before they are born. All in all, these customs results early marriages.

Early marriage has many negative consequences. The first and foremost impact is on health. Firstly, early marriage increases the chances of gynecological morbidities. According to Walker (2012) as early married girl’s body is a not fully mature, this may lead to vesico-viginal fistula. Moreover, pelvic inflammatory diseases, cervicitis, Urinary Tract Infections and cervical cancers are very common in early married girls.

Secondly, it results in early pregnancy, pregnancy related complications and deaths. According to Zia (1013) risk of death is five times higher for less than 15 years old pregnant girl than the girls who are in their twenties. Moreover, in Pakistan early marriage are significantly linked with decreased likelihood of prenatal and postnatal care which increases chance of pregnancy related deaths. Furthermore, early marriage leads to pregnancy related diseases like hypertension, pre eclampsia, obstructed labour, anemia and depression.

In addition, early marriage not only has a negative impact on mother, it also put the child at risk. According to UNICEF report (2009) the child of a 17 years old girl is 60 percent higher risk of dying than the child of mother who is older than 19 years. Moreover, they are more likely to suffer from low birth weight, malnutrition and developmental delays. The reason is that young mothers are not aware about parental care. Citizen Rights and Sustainable Development (CRSD)’s director Idress Kamal said “If a girl is married off at an age when she herself should be playing with dolls, how she can handle a baby or go through delivery?”

According to Malhotra, Warner, McGonagle, & Lee-Rife (2011) early married girls are at highest risk of sexual transmitted disease and HIV infection .First reason of this impact is unawareness about contraceptive methods and protection against STI. Second reason is that mostly these girls are married to older husband with more sexual involvement, and thirdly due to greater sexual exposure.

Beside health problems, early marriage is a contributing factor to illiteracy. It snatches opportunity of acquiring education from children particularly from the girls. Either they don’t get opportunity to go to school or they tend to quit school before or shortly after married. There is a common perception that once a girl is married she no longer needs an education. They are expected to take the responsibility of their homes instead of continuing education. Thus, it increases illiteracy rate. Moreover, a study done by Godhaetal.(2013) shows that 57% of early married girls were illiterate.

Furthermore, early marriage spoils the childhood and brings accountability. Children are not capable of dealing with responsibility, but they are stripped of their innocent and playful life, separated from their peers and are pushed into a life full of responsibilities. Once a girl gets married even if she is 10 years old she is considered as women. Similarly, even 12 years old boy is considered as a man after marriage. Society expects them to behave like mature person and they are expected to become responsible. Thus, marring them early violates their rights to personal freedom and growth.

Early marriage provides an opportunity of long fertility window period for woman. These results in giving rise to many children which can increase population. Moreover, the young couples are not aware about the contraceptive methods which result in multiple children, thus increases population.

Girls married as children are at highs risk of domestic violence. (Nasrullah, &Bhatti, 2012)They are beaten and physically abused by their husbands and in laws. Being innocent, young and vulnerable they are least likely to take action against this abuse .Hence;they become more prone to domestic violence than the adult married women.
Furthermore, there is a strong relationship between early marriages and poverty. Early marriage is considered as a way to overcome poverty. However, early marriage itself is a big cause of poverty. Firstly, it is because couple are immature they don’t have the capacity to earn money. Secondly, poverty increases due to the other consequences of early marriage like, illiteracy, multiple child births and spending money on diseases.

As early marriage have a lot of negative consequence, therefore it is important to do a range of interventions to address this issue. Many steps are taken in Pakistan to discouraged child marriages through legislation and launching campaign.
According to Institute for Social Justice (ISJ) Pakistan, Pakistani law prohibits early marriage. According to Child Marriages Restraint Act (1929) the age of marriage allowed for boys is18 years above and for girls 16 years above. Marriages before this age are considered as violation. Moreover, according to law (section,4) violator should be punish with one month imprisonment or with fine of Rs.1,000. Furthermore, in 2009 Child Marriage Restraint (Amendment) Bill was propose to raise the minimum age of marriage for the girl from 16 to 18 which is still pending.

Although legislation prohibits early marriage, but a matter of concerned is that some of sections are so week which cannot make the law strongly beneficial. For example, the punishment for the violators is very light which everyone can easily bear. Another week point that, one section suggests that court should not take cognizance of any offense, whose complaint is not made by the Union Council and Provincial Government. Therefore, many cases remain unhandled which increases the chance of negligence of the early marriage cases. Moreover, according to (Section 9) case should not be taken after one year of incidence, therefore people take the benefit of this act and keep hidden the event for a year till the time limit is complete, so after one year nobody can file case against them.

It is very important for the government to take corrective measuresto make law more beneficial. The legislators need to bring amendments to the law that strongly discourages child marriages. The amount of fine and extend of imprisonment should be increased so nobody can take it easy and violate the rule. Furthermore, court should be allowed to handle the offence even after many years that incidence of early marriages should be noticed. In addition, each case should be taken by court even without complaint made by the council or authorities. Furthermore, it is recommended that the pending bill should be Enactment or pass.

Beside legislation, many organizations in Pakistan work for discouragement of child marriages. For instance, Action Aid Pakistan and Ideas for Life Trust, SPARC, and Rutgers provide awareness in the communities regarding the side effects of early marriages. Although they struggle to change the situation, but the condition remains the same. This is because they only work in some specific areas of Pakistan and for specific time period.

To improve the effectiveness of these types of programs it is important to increase their quality and frequency. Moreover, different strategies should be used to make them interesting and follow-up sessions should be held to see the behavior-changes and effectiveness of the programs. Furthermore, these organizations should cover all areas of Pakistan,
In addition to working on preexisting strugglesi.e. legislation and campaigns, government should work on the cause of the of child marriages. Because removing root cause will remove the impacts. To do so, government should provide opportunities like employment, and provide awarenessto decrease poverty. In addition, customs like watasata, and sawara should be forbid .Furthermore, awareness about the women and childes rights and consequences on marriage should be provided. Bankimon says “Education for girls is one of the best strategies for protecting girls against child marriage”. Therefore, educating children should be encouraged in all areas of Pakistan particularly in rural areas to decrease child marriages.

In addition to preventing and stopping early marriage, it is also important to do something for the children who are already married. Although they had already suffered but doing something for them can make their life better. They should be taught about the use of contraceptive methods, prevention of sexual transmitted disease and other health related problems. Moreover, the early married mothers should be trained about the prenatal care, postnatal care and parenting styles. Furthermore, to make them independent give them awareness about availing the available resources for increasing their income.

All in all child marriage is a big issue in Pakistan which has many negative consequences on health, wealth and society. It occurs due to dowry system, sense of insecurity, illiteracy, poverty and many traditions. Pakistan has taken many steps to resolve this issue though legislation and campaign, but they are very week steps. Government should take strong action to solve this issue by increasing education, removing its root causes making child marriage law strong and passing of pending bills.

Izat Jehan
From Chitral Madaklasht
Aga Khan University School Of Nursing and Midwifery


mail @ chitraltimes@gmail.com

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