Child marriages; a human rights violation and an act leading to serious repercussions. According to the United Nations Children’s Fund, a child marriage is defined as “a formal marriage or informal union between a child under the age of 18 and an adult or another child”. The leading causes of early marriages range from poverty, societal norms, protection, cultural practices and family honor. One can not comprehend how this taboo has been normalized in many parts of the world and such violation of a basic human right is still in practice.
When we take a look into the statistics of child marriages in Pakistan, the data provides a worrisome image of the overall situation. The number of child marriages increased by 14% from 2019 to 2020 (Sahil Cruel Numbers 2020). Out of 119 cases of child marriages in 2020, 113 girls fell prey to this social evil and the remaining 6 were boys. The question here is, why are girls more likely to be a victim of this heinous crime? Is it because the boys are considered to be the sole breadwinners of the family? Or is it because girls are not given a right to present their choice in their marriages? Or the legal framework of our state is not capable enough to track and record the unlawful state of events that are still taking place without the authorities taking pro-active measures against it. This makes us wonder, is there even a law against this social ill? Yes, there is. The Child Marriage Restraint Act, 1929. In 2019, a bill was placed in the parliament for an amendment to fix the minimum age of girls for marriage to 18 years. However, surprisingly this bill received a majority of votes against it, stating the bill to be un-Islamic. When the people in authority are not clear on their stance against child marriages, how do we expect the number of child marriages to go down. Even if there is a law that prohibits child marriages, there is no implementation. The law is just some paperwork without any proper actions taken against the offenders.
One may ask: Why is the implementation of child marriage laws so important? Why is it important that offenders are questioned and punished? The answer is quite simple, a young girl or a boy, who is filled with hopes and dreams of achieving so much in their life are forced to compromise and let go of their dreams in order to fulfill the responsibility of a relationship that is imposed on them. Early marriages take a huge toll on these kids, they can’t get education, can’t build themselves a career that they would’ve otherwise. For girls, the consequences are even worse, from dying while giving birth and being infected with sexually transmitted diseases to having children and being responsible for their upbringing when she herself is a child. Hence, it is important that the state machinery is actively involved in tackling this issue and making sure that the law is fully implemented and abided by the citizen to the grassroot levels. In addition to this, awareness campaigns and seminars can also play a huge role in bringing about awareness regarding the detrimental effects of child marriages.
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The author Fatima Iqbal is a public policy graduate from National Defense University.