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
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
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
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
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.
From Chitral Madaklasht
Aga Khan University School Of Nursing and Midwifery