Increasing number of child marriages in Pakistan

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Shafaqna Pakistan: According to a report released in Pakistan, the poverty rate in Pakistan is at an alarming 31.3 per cent. There are a number of serious issues related to poverty in the country, but experts maintain that child marriage is among the most horrifying.

One of the major concerns of the people, living in this plight, is the marriage of their children, mainly because the underprivileged families seldom send their children to schools. Hence, the boys in those families start working from a very small age, while girls are trained for household work and married quickly, meaning underage marriages.

As per an organisation named Sahil, “In the year 2020, a total of 119 cases of child marriages were reported. Out of the total 119 reported cases, 95 per cent cases were of girls, and 5 per cent cases were of boys.”

There are other reasons of child marriages in Pakistan like culture, tribal traditions and exchange marriage i.e., watta satta, but experts say poverty is the gravest of them all. In northern parts of the county, there is also a tradition of taking money in exchange of marriage with underage girls. The reason behind this custom is that the families consider girls a burden, hence, they marry off their girls quickly.

Qaiser Khan, a political activist from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, said the poverty is the biggest cause of child marriages. Khan slammed so-called unions as the outright selling of young impoverished girls.

“In newly merged tribal districts and Malakund district, people take 500,000 rupees (€2,660, $3,180) to 2,000,000 rupees from men wanting to marry their underage girls. Most of these men are wealthy and already married,” Khan said. The activist blamed religious leaders and political personalities of the region are involved in it. He said that if they want to remarry, why don’t they marry to aged and mature women.

An Islamabad-based activist, Habiba Salman and an anonymous activist in Quetta said the situation is almost same in city of Chitral and Quetta. “The wealthy people pay between Rs 1 million to Rs 4 million to marry underage girls,” they said.

As per a UNICEF report in 2020, 21 per cent girls in Pakistan get married before age of 18, while 3 per cent get marry before turning 15. “The country has the sixth highest number of child brides in the world (1,909,000). The median age of marriage is the lowest in rural areas and in Gilgit-Baltistan,” the report said. And alarmingly, the situation may get worse due to the COVID-19 pandemic, as it has increased the chances of hike in poverty.

Although the government had taken steps like opening the construction sector, the situation didn’t get out of control. However, the third-wave of coronavirus is now in the country, and the situation is getting worse. Experts fear that in near future, the situation might aggravate in the country, as the government has announced complete lockdown in 20 cities of Punjab.

Observers say that the situation about child marriage after getting money is highly unlikely to end in the country. They say this is mainly because this is done in the name of culture or even religion. The issues, especially in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Gilgit Baltistan, have deep roots of ‘culture’, ‘norm’ and ‘tradition’.

“Early marriage affects the psychological well-being and intellectual, personal and social growth of the child,” noted Kishwar Enam, a paediatrician at AKUH and member of the child welfare initiative Kasur Hamara Hai.

“Robbed of happy childhood experiences, given an incomplete education that mars career prospects later, overburdened with responsibilities and subjected to domestic violence, there is an increased risk of depression and post-traumatic stress disorder in such children.”

Experts say this menace can only be ended when people start recognising it as a crime, or even something negative. They warn that till the people consider it a part of their culture, and don’t see it as a heinous crime, the issue will continue to persist in the country.

Activists have urged the government to take major steps to tackle the issue, including harsh punishments. However, they reiterate that the society as a whole has to fight to uproot child marriages from Pakistan.

Source: The Nation (Writer: Sania Arif)