Laws in Pakistan like the Child Marriage Restraint Act of 1929 makes it illegal for men and women under the age of 16 to get married. 21% of Pakistan’s young women under the age of 18 are forced to be child brides to men far older than them. Young girls, who are far too innocent to even understand what a marriage is, are forced into unknown terrain. Without any sex education, they allow their husbands to treat them in whatever manner they see fit simply because they don’t know their rights.
Child Brides: An Old Concept
Child marriage is not a new concept in Pakistan. There are concepts such as satta watta in which sisters of the grooms are exchanged, and vani, in which a girl is given away in marriage to settle a debt. The people who decide the fate of these underage women are more than capable of making sane decisions, it is just that they choose not to. These practices are sanctioned by what is known as a Jirga or panchayat which is when elders of a community sit in a gathering and decide on major decisions that are to be made.
Reasons Behind Child Marriage
There are several reasons why people prefer to marry underage girls over underage boys but the major factor behind it is social as well as gender equality among the two. Another factor would be the lack of awareness. Families who marry their daughters young in Pakistan seldom know the consequences of such unions. Older men who are stronger than these young girls hardly wait until the girls are older and ready for intercourse, instead, they force themselves on these girls because of their inability to control themselves. Most of these marriages end up in marital rape but it is never made official because that is considered dishonorable for a society since, in Pakistan, it is considered the job of a wife to sexually please her husband regardless of her age.
No Support From The National Assembly
The National Assembly of Pakistan repeatedly ignores proposals that beg the officials to raise the age for a girl to get married from 16 to 18 in the Child Marriage Restraint Act. Instead, all it does is toughen laws and punishments against those who force their daughters to get married before the age of 16. The offenders face 5 years as a minimum sentence and a fine of up to $9,547.
The Council of Islamic Ideology and Barbaric Verdicts
One would assume that religion would back up such laws that keep the daughters of the nation safe but that is not true. The Council of Islamic Ideology deemed acts such as the Child Marriage Restraint Act as un-Islamic. They believe that as soon as a girl hits puberty, it is acceptable for her to be married. These opinions highly criticized but even then many people follow in the same footsteps and go against the law to do what they feel is right.
Child Marriage and Illiteracy
Studies reveal that there is a direct correlation between child marriages and low levels of literacy. In the year 2012 alone, 53.7 percent of the girls who were married under the age of 18 never went to school. In marriages such as these, there are often poor health issues, higher mortality rates, miscarriages and diseases like HIV/AIDS.
Like any social issue, we need to address this problem head-on. Pakistan is a member of the South Asia Initiative to End Violence Against Children and has vowed to eradicate child marriages by 2030. But what I believe is that the only way Pakistan will be able to do that is if this topic is openly talked about. When problems are discussed, they will be solved. When families realize what terrible fates they are befalling their daughters, only then will they stop themselves.
There is absolutely no shortage of pedophiles and perverts in this world. The only difference between other countries and Pakistan in this manner is that people allow it in Pakistan and have even made it legal to some extent. We must speak up and protect those who cannot protect themselves.
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