ISLAMABAD: In Pakistan, one woman dies in every 20 minutes during childbirth and the major cause of the high maternal mortality ratio 276 per 100,000 live births is child marriage.
This was stated by speakers at a workshop organised by the Family Planning Association of Pakistan (FPAP) here on Wednesday.
Rahnuma-FPAP's chief executive officer Syed Kamal Shah, director adolescent and women empowerment Amna Aksheed and director advocacy resources Nabila Malik also attended the workshop.
It is estimated that 30 per cent of all marriages fall into the category of child marriage which is more common in interior Sindh than in other parts of the country.
As many as 985 cases of child marriage were reported in Pakistan in 2009 but there are no exact figures about the practice in the country, said the speakers.
Girls who marry before the age of 18 are more likely to experience domestic violence than their peers who marry late. Child brides often show signs symptomatic of child sexual abuse and post-traumatic stress. Such symptoms include feeling of hopelessness, helplessness and severe depression.
Child brides are at a heightened risk of sexual and physical abuse, reproductive health complications, HIV/Aids infection and other adverse physiological and social outcomes.
Girls aged 10-14 are five times more likely to die in childbirth than women aged 15-19, they said. Five customs or traditions are also promoting child marriages in the country, the speakers added. These are: Watta Satta, in which young brides are exchanged between two parties; Paitlikkhi (literally written on stomach) where two families agree to marry their children before they are born or are still young; SwaraNani, under which girls are given in marriage as a form of dispute resolution; Vulvar, a system of bride price in Balochistan, and Addo-Baddo, practiced in Sindh, in which families agree to marry their young daughters to boys of other tribes.
Besides, because of financial problems, poor prefer to give their daughters in marriages at an early age so that there are less people to feed.People who marry off their children young are usually the ones who live in rural areas and are unaware of the consequences of child marriage.
Child marriage has been discouraged in Pakistan through the 'Child Marriage Restraint Act 1929' but still it is widely practiced in some areas throughVani and other ceremonies. According to the act, male not above 18 and female not over 16 are considered children. Child marriage means a marriage to which either of the contracting partners is a child.
Violation of the act is a crime but the punishment is so mild that no one bothers about it.
The punishment for child marriage is simple imprisonment which may extend to one month or with a fine of Rs1,000or both.
Worldwide each day more than 25,000 young girls become child brides, joining almost 60 million women who have married before their 18th birthday.
The speakers said the government should develop and implement a system to prevent or discourage child marriage, review customary and civil laws and make commitment to reduce poverty. They also called for legislation to establish 18 as the legal age for girls' marriage.
Birth and marriage registration should be ensured and open discussion should be arranged to create awareness among the masses, they added. Educated girls are less likely to agree to marry at young age, so incentives should be introduced for their education.