July 29, 2023

Staff Report


Legislation alone cannot curb child marriages, a framework for awareness-building, education of children and their parents and cross-cutting collaborative efforts among all stakeholders are also the need of the hour to end this social ill. This was the consensus among speakers for AGHS Legal Aid Cell’s webinar ‘Negative impacts of early and child marriages’.

The webinar, which was conducted with the support of the Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany in Pakistan, saw the participation of Senator Ayesha Raza Farooq, Chairperson of the National Commission on the Rights of the Child and of the Statutory Committee on the Anti-Rape Legislation; Dr. Azbah Naz, a practicing psychologist of the Mukhtar A. Sheikh Hospital in Multan; and Dr. Manizeh Bano, Executive Director of Sahil.

Senator Farooq stated that it is important to identify the driving factors behind early and child marriages so that state institutions and civil society organizations (CSOs) can respond effectively. She mentioned gender inequality and patriarchy, traditional customs such as watta satta and swara (to name a few), poverty, lack of awareness as to the benefits of education, and religious concerns as some of these factors.

“Except for Sindh, the Child Marriage Restraint Act of 1929 is applied across the nation, in which the minimum age of marriage for girls is 16. It is imperative that we raise our voices as individuals, as civil society, as citizens as mothers, as legislators and as policymakers to convince our political parties that the minimum age of marriage be raised to 18 years,”

she held, however she observed that legislation alone cannot accomplish the difficult task of completely eradicating child marriages in Pakistan.

Giving the example of Bangladesh where there is a national law which sets the minimum age of marriage at 18 years, yet still it is one of the countries in this region with the highest incidence of child marriages.

“While legislation is certainly imperative, it is also important to raise awareness and advocate not only at the federal and provincial levels, but also at the grassroots level. We need to take this to our communities, because one shoe does not fit all.”

Senator Farooq called for engagement with religious scholars, healthcare providers and tribal elders on the economic, social and health-related consequences of early and child marriages. She gave worrying statistics, providing that young girls are twice as likely as older women to die in childbirth, while the children of underage mothers are 60% more likely to die before they reach the age of one.

“Our society is conservative so the parents of child brides, especially their fathers, do not know the risks they are imposing on their underage daughters when they get them married,” she said. “It is a documented fact that girls that marry before the age of 15 are more prone to physical and sexual violence in marriage. They are not completely developed emotionally, they cannot take a stand.”

She called for awareness-building programmes in mainstream and social media with the support of CSOs, and urged that children, especially girls, be put in schools so they can become productive members of their family.

When a child is made to skip adolescence and is forced into adult roles, their hormonal, physiological and mental development is put at serious risk.

“Males are brought up in a way that they are the ‘right hand’ of their fathers, while the females are the same for their mothers. Children in early marriages are negatively impacted since they are usually not given a basic education as to how to handle so many stresses,” she explained, citing that failing relationships, especially in married life, is the fourth leading cause of depression among people. “When a child is undergoing hormonal changes, handling a relationship becomes even more difficult.”

She also stated that in her experience many children are not being sent to school, especially girls, as their parents prioritize teaching them how to do housework since that is the only thing they envision for their future.

“They just raise them according to societal norms which expect girls to become homemakers,” Dr. Naz said.

“50 per cent of mental health issues start exactly this way when children are unable to handle stressors.”

Senator Farooq stated that there is a need to unify and harmonize legislature across the board, and that prescribed punishments should also be made more severe. Furthermore, nikah registrars should be given urgent training while it should be mandatory to include the CNIC of the bride in the nikah nama.

“Law enforcement agencies, provincial government as well as local government should also play their role at the community and grassroots level to enforce the law. CSOs should play their role in building awareness as to the mental and physical health consequences of early and child marriages among communities,” she held. “We require a holistic approach. We need a cross-cutting, cross-sectoral approach. Just correcting the law will not give us results… we also need to focus on changing attitudes and behaviors, which requires time.”

She expressed hope that all stakeholders come together to work on comprehensive legislation and move in a positive trajectory.

“We also need to find role models to raise this voice and carry this message forward,” she said.

Dr. Bano reiterated that it is important to understand that child marriage is a deeply entrenched cultural issue.

“The number of cases that we get is nothing compared to what is actually happening,”

she said, adding that if a married person who is under the age of 18 is exposed to a physical relationship, it is technically child abuse.

She said that one of the reasons behind child marriages is that parents as well as society at large is afraid of their girls becoming involved in relationships of their own volition. Secondly, girls are considered someone else’s property, so parents reason that if she is meant to go to someone else’s house, then she should be sent away as soon as possible.

“Thirdly, when we do not even want or do not even have the facility to educate girls, parents are left with the question: ‘what to do with her now?’”

Dr. Naz added that one major contributing factor to the high incidence of child marriages in Pakistan was the financial woes of parents.

“It is not the same for boys since they are expected to grow up to become the breadwinners, but girls, since they are meant to go to another home, they see no reason to invest in them,” she said, recounting the many cases she had encountered where parents sold off their daughters and sent them to different cities, tribes and countries where they did not understand the language and norms, which contributed to depression and anxiety. “This is not only for girls. We saw boys as well who were regarded as fatherly figures, who were the breadwinners of their families – they too were pushed into early marriages and given tough responsibilities from a young age, and like girls they too also tend to collapse.”

Dr. Naz stated that an emotional collapse not just impacts the individual, but their spouse and their family as well.

Though clarifying that Sahil’s data saw far fewer male victims of child marriages (meaning that girls made up the majority of victims and that they were married off to much older men), Dr. Bano opined that boys tend to go through worse things than girls in some ways.

“He is under pressure to support his own family, support his parents… he faces economic pressure and emotional pressure,” she held.

She said that the attitudes toward child marriages will take a very long time to change, and that awareness is key to accelerate that change. Furthermore, it is important to focus on education, especially value-added education up till grade 10 so that children come out with crucial knowledge of nutrition, health and of childbearing. 

Dr. Naz was of the opinion that education was the best way to tackle child marriages.

“Education will allow the parents as well as kids to understand how to process marriages, how to navigate the relationships involved in married life, and how to handle responsibility. Without a basic education, children will never understand what their rights are,” she said.

Dr. Bano felt that when something is so embedded in one’s mind, aggressive campaigning and advocacy will push the message that child marriage is wrong and harmful.


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