Need to take decisive action against child marriages

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By Saira Shahliani
The problem of child marriages continues unabated in many developing countries. Our country is also not immune to this issue. This is one of the causes of many socio-economic problems plaguing Pakistan such as overpopulation, increased maternal and child mortality rate, stunting and wasting, etc. In order to tackle this issue, it is time to increase the minimum marriageable age up to 18 years throughout Pakistan for both genders along with launching awareness campaign in this regard.
People do not have adequate knowledge about the risks posed by early marriages. Recently, I had the opportunity to visit a social gathering where I was questioned what early marriage is! This phenomenon intrigued me and I came to the conclusion that indeed it is the inadequate understanding of this issue of early child marriages which is predominantly responsible for the issue of early child marriages.
Additionally, lack of proper employment opportunities has also contributed in this regard. As the downtrodden sections of society are unable to afford education, health and other such facilities, they deem it necessary to get their offspring married as soon as possible mostly before their 18th birthday. One of the reasons is that they are not able to look after their children or even to properly feed them and easy way out is to get their daughters married at the early age.
Early marriages are also the cause of many medical complications. Stunting and wasting are the most threatening of them. Due to child marriages, unplanned pregnancies are prevalent resultantly the expectant mother as well as her child does not have adequate intake of required nutrition which leads to stunting and wasting amongst the children. As the first 1000 days of newborn children are the most important, if they will not be provided with the nutritious diet, there is a danger that they may suffer stunting and wasting. Increased maternal and child mortality rates are other perils with regard to child medical complications arising out of the marriages taking place before 18 years of age.
There is a need to curb this unchecked rise of child marriages throughout Pakistan. First and foremost, the existing laws pertaining to the child marriages should be amended and the minimum marriageable age for both the genders should be changed to 18 years. The provincial assembly of Sindh has introduced the Sindh Child Marriage Restraint Act, 2013 and fixed 18 years as marriageable-age for boys as well as girls. As the 16 years of marriageable age is fixed in other provinces, this should be amended by following the footsteps of Sindh Assembly. Such a move may face the resistance from the orthodoxy, however they should be convinced and taken onboard in this direction. Furthermore, the government and the civil society should take holistic steps for creating awareness against the child marriages so that the public may know about the risks of the early marriages.
It is time we realised the dangers of early child marriages and took comprehensive steps in this regard. Beginning from amending the existing laws and substituting 18 years as minimum marriageable age and raising awareness can be the game changers in eradication of the menace of early marriages. The role of ulemas is indispensable in this respect, hence they should be motivated for playing their vital role. If we do not realise this threat then we are bound to cause more damage to individuals, families and to the society at large. Thus, there is a need to check the child marriages at the earliest.
This writer has served as a member of the provincial assembly of Sindh and convener of the Sindh Women’s Parliamentary Caucus (SWPC) (2013-18). She can be reached at sayrashahliani@gmail.com