Child marriage burden

Published April 22, 2023

IT is a tragedy that South Asia carries the highest burden of child marriage in the world, an indication of how unsuccessful rights activists and policymakers have been in protecting children.

New estimates released recently by Unicef suggest that there are around 290m child brides in the region — a staggering figure which represents 45pc of all child marriages globally.

What is even more tragic is that economic pressures unleashed since Covid-19 have caused more families in the region to push their young daughters into marriage.

Girls suffer far more than boys in this regard, with many being married off — often to much older men — by their families due to economic stress or senseless custom.

Pakistan, specifically, has a shameful record. Other than Sindh, where the legal age for marriage is 18 years, in the rest of the country, girls as young as 16 are officially allowed to marry.

In Nepal, the legal age is 20 years, whereas in India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, it is 18. Afghanistan is the only other country in the region that allows 16-year-olds to marry.

Our region must do more to enforce the laws, in fact improve them. Child marriages have a serious negative impact on the health, education and well-being of girls. In the long run, this affects the country at large.

While there are efforts being made to address this issue, they are not enough to overcome the obnoxious trend. Girls who marry as children suffer tremendously.

They suffer complications during childbirth and register higher maternal mortality. Most of them are not allowed to go to school — another cruel tradition in communities where young brides are the norm. Because children are not allowed to have a say in major life decisions, these marriages are frequently forced.

Child marriage is a serious human rights violation. South Asia’s policymakers must realise how prevalent the practice is and act fast before the future of millions more girls is destroyed.

Published in Dawn, April 22nd, 2023

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