Underage marriages

February 24, 2020

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IN a reassuring move, a court in Jacobabad recently upheld the law by nullifying the marriage of 15-year-old Naniki Kumari, who reportedly converted to Islam from Hinduism, after declaring her to be under the age of marriage as per the Sindh Child Marriage Restraint Act, 2013. The judgement was given under an inordinate amount of pressure, and amidst tight security, as religious hardliners had been issuing threats to the girl’s family who asked that their daughter be returned to them. Meanwhile, the Hindu community of Jacobabad had been holding demonstrations against the marriage of the girl, which they feel comes in a long line of similar cases of girls and young women being kidnapped, forced to convert and then married against their will. For instance, in 2017, a 14-year-old from Thar was taken away from her family by armed men, converted, and married off to a Muslim man. In each instance, influential seminaries insist that the girls convert of their own free will. Whatever the details of this particular case may be, it is clear that the child is too young to make life-altering decisions such as marriage.

Child marriage continues to be a rampant evil practice in this country, which deprives the girl child of the right to complete her education, and exposes her to a host of health-related complications, rape, domestic abuse and exploitation. Unicef estimates that Pakistan has the sixth highest number of child brides in the world, with approximately 21pc being married off before reaching the age of 18; and 3pc before the age of 15. And yet, apart from Sindh, no other province has increased the age of marriage to 18 years for girls, despite the fact that not doing so is a blatant violation of the fundamental human rights of children inscribed in the many international conventions that Pakistan is signatory to. But each time the issue is brought up there is great opposition from religious groups and male politicians. It is time these critics themselves grew up.

Published in Dawn, February 24th, 2020