IT is unfortunate that the country continues to lose nearly 2m young women, who could have gone on to become brilliant doctors, engineers, lawyers, professors, etc, to the rigours of marriage and childbearing before they can even be legally classified as adults. It appears that our patriarchal mores, which attach far greater importance to women’s traditional roles as mothers, homemakers and caregivers, end up robbing the country of a great deal of talent and human resource that could have helped it progress.
Ironically, despite an overwhelming increase in the number of female students in schools, colleges and universities in the urban areas, the custom of child marriage remains deeply entrenched in villages and smaller towns — sadly, there are many examples in the more ‘developed’ cities as well. The outdated traditions, which consider girls as a burden to be shed by having them marry early, keep alive a practice that is linked to a number of societal and health-related issues. There is copious evidence to suggest that underage brides — frequently wed to much older males — remain vulnerable to serious damage done to their biological, mental and intellectual health. They are prone to domestic and sexual abuse at the hands of their partners and to developing health problems on account of bearing children before their bodies are ready to give birth. It is unfortunate that laws that should provide protection from this practice remain toothless in the face of regressive tradition. Only Sindh has a marriage law that spells out the minimum age for marriage as 18 years (it is 16 in the rest of the country) but even so, it is hardly being enforced in the province. In fact, by some estimates, Sindh has the highest prevalence of child marriage in the country. Meanwhile, a recent ruling by the Islamabad High Court should encourage other provinces to revise their own laws. It is time the authorities took stock of this sinister practice that is detrimental to the well-being of millions of young girls across the country.
Published in Dawn, August 27th, 2022