Author: Rana Tassawar Ali, November 18 2013      Child marriage is defined as any marriage involving a person below the age of 18 years. Child marriage is a widespread phenomenon in Pakistan. According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Innocenti Research Center, 37 per cent of Pakistani women get married before reaching the age of 18 years. Statistics in Pakistan also show that child marriages are more prevalent in the interior of Sindh than in other parts of Pakistan. The child marriage consequences on children are life long - girls who marry before 18 are more likely to experience domestic violence. This is a fact of early child marriage that leaves them vulnerable at different levels: physically, psychologically, socially and economically. 

We need to consider that every child should fully prepare to live an individual life in society. When any child marriage takes place between two children, it is very difficult for them to take up the responsibilities of an adult life. Once again, girls suffer more because boys often have outlets and escapes due to their contact with the outer world and choices given to them by the patriarchal norms of the society. Due to societal choices available to men, even after early marriage, they can still rebuild their lives and start afresh, but girls are left with no choice but to undergo generational subjugation.

Ending child marriage is a big challenge in Pakistan due to a feudal system which uses girls as tissue paper and understands them as a machine of work and fertility. In Pakistan, the Sindh government made legislation on child marriage, but, in Sindh, there is no reporting mechanism available. The birth registration system of Pakistan is very ineffective and non-responsive. Birth registration for children, especially girls, is never prioritized, which gives room for manipulation regarding the exact age of the child/girls at the time of marriage. The marriage registration process is weak. The marriage registrars in Pakistan do very poor work; the Union Council officials who are responsible for marriage registration do not perform their duties of verifying the age of the persons getting married and do not make formal complaints to the relevant police officials. In fact, most of these people are of the same mindset: girls should be married as early as possible.

The governments need to take steps to end child marriage and develop and implement systems to discourage these common practices. Strong capacity building of families and communities will also help to address this challenge, and perception will become the cause of social change against child marriage. Today’s children and youth are leaders of tomorrow. Giving life skills education in school will be good step for reduction of child marriage; enforcement legislation will be helpful for controlling child marriage overall in Pakistan.