The practice of child marriages is a prevalent phenomenon and takes place almost all the regions of Pakistan.
According to UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre mentioned in a report that about 37 per cent of Pakistani women get married before they reach the age of 18 years. This is a general ratio. Child marriage inclination is more observable in South Punjab, Sind, Baluchistan and Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa.
However, the exact number of “Early Marriages” is not available by reason of lack of proper legal documentation of these marriages and thus exact data can not be collected. Despite this, heaps of evidence is available in the form of several media reports, case studies by various Pakistani and international NGOs.
What is shocking that some of the media reports in addition to numerous case studies and qualitative research reveal that show that girls – as young as 6 months – are married or committed to be married to men mostly much older than them and occasionally to boys of the same age.
One similar case was reported when 10-year-old, Shaheena Mobin was brought to Civil Hospital Karachi. According to Dr Amjad Siraj Memon, professor of surgery, “she was brought to him from a village in Badin, after having suffered from a severe childbirth injury.”
Shaheena, a mere child herself, delivered a son who died within half an hour of being born, about 9 or 10 months back. After the delivery her intestines were severely damaged and since then, she has been suffering. At the age of 11, she was given in marriage in a watta satta exchange; (which is an arrangement under which a man marries a woman only if her brother/son marries a woman of the man’s family.)
Adding to Shaheena’s tragedy, her mother keeps on insisting that she is 18 without having a computerised national identity card in order to establish her claim. Nonetheless, her bone age X-ray shows her to be between 13 and 14 years.
Dr. Amjad Siraj Memon claims he has encountered numerous young mothers; however he has never come across a mother looking as young as Shaheena. “It’s criminal what they did to her,” he said. Dr. Memon expressed extreme disgust and anger at what the child had to go through revealing that Shaheena has rectal as well as urinary incontinence and two bags have been inserted to collect the waste.
Despite such cases being reported on regular basis, the issue of child marriages remains un-addressed in Pakistan. Thus far, no practical measures are taken by the government to curb this tendency. Still, some inconsistent efforts were made by the civil society and UN organizations, although not enough to highlight the dilemma of children particularly girls.
Although, Pakistan has a law “Child Marriages Restraint Act 1929” to put off child marriages the issue has not been addressed. This law was passed, 82 years ago during British Raj, and has not been modified since then. The law lays marriageable age for boys at 18 years, while that for girls at 16 years.
The punishment prescribed for violation is a meagre fine of Rs. 1000 (US $ 11), or one month imprisonment. What’s more, the adults who agreed to and arranged the child marriage are liable to punishment, yet the marriage does not stand dissolved. Much unsurprisingly, the implementation of this law is non-existent in Pakistan.