Any formal marriage or informal union where one or both of the parties are under 18 years of age is referred to as child marriage also known as “early marriage” or ‘child brides”. More than half of girls from poor families in the developing world are married as children.
The issue of child marriage is very common throughout the entire world. According to the latest statistics of April 2020, level of child marriage has been found highest in sub-Saharan Africa, where 35% of young women were married before age 18, followed by south Asia, where nearly 30% were married before age 18. The lowest level of child marriage was found in Eastern Europe & Central Asia (12 percent) followed by Middle East and North Africa (17 percent) respectively.
Pakistan is among one of the nation which is facing the child marriage dilemma, almost one third of girls are married before they reach their puberty. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) report regarding demographics of Child Marriage, 21 percent girls under the age of 18 and 3 percent of girls under the age of 15 gets married in Pakistan. Almost 15 percent of child brides give birth to babies before reaching the age of 18. Similarly, UNICEF reported 21% underage marriages across Pakistan.
The situation is even worse in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa as women rights commission estimates that 74 percent of girls are married in the age of 18. The major reason of higher child marriage percentage in KP is due to conservative tribal and Pashtun customs, traditions and practices. Some people are of the view that Islamic religion urge them to tie the knot of daughters once they reach puberty. Females are also considered inferior gender to the male and are mostly married without their consent or will, hence, increasing child marriages instance.
Child marriage violates the fundamental human rights of children and leave a long-term adverse effect on child’s life. One of the major consequences of the child marriage is that it badly affects the health of the children. It increases the risk of sexual diseases, cervical cancer, malaria, death during child birth, premature birth of babies etc. Child marriage deny girls a bright future and put their lives in an unending dangerous cycle of oppression and harm.
According to the International Council of Research on Women (ICRW), women with low levels of education and underage marriage are at a higher risk of domestic violence than older and more educated women. According to the research, the girls who marry before reaching the age of 18 are 50 percent more likely to face physical and sexual violence from her partner throughout the entire life.
Psychology reveals that girls who marry under the age of 18 are likely to suffer from trauma and depression and it usually leads to divorce or suicide. For girls who don’t have mature bodies for safe sexual intercourse, unavoidable sexual relation with their husbands can also be traumatic with long term adverse physical and psychological effects.
Child marriage effectively ends a girl childhood, curtails her education, minimizes her economic opportunities, increases her risk of domestic violence and puts her at risk of early, frequent, very high-risk pregnancies.
In Pakistan, there are various causes of early or child marriages. The most common amongst all those reasons are lack of implementation of existing laws, tribal and feudal structure of society, lack of awareness within the public.
The existing laws of child marriages are child marriage restraint Act 1929, recently passed by senate for controlling child marriage. Also, Article-16 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that the person must be at full age when married and that marriage should be entered into freely and with full consent.
Though, minimum require laws are present in Pakistan; there is a need to develop a mechanism for its strict implementation at government and judicial level to ensure control on child marriages. Moreover, there is also a need to conduct a massive awareness campaign to educate masses regarding harmful effect of child marriages.