As members of the Women’s Parliamentary Caucus, we are resolute in our mission to address, head-on, the most pressing social issues. In this blog, we turn our attention to a profoundly concerning matter: child marriage. While this issue is global, we will focus specifically on its prevalence in Pakistan, comparing it with other Muslim-majority countries, to deepen our understanding and strengthen our advocacy efforts.
Child Marriage in Pakistan: The Current Scenario
Despite laws enacted to curb the practice, child marriage remains a serious issue in Pakistan. According to UNICEF, approximately 21% of girls in Pakistan are married before the age of 18, with 3% married before 15. These statistics not only highlight a violation of child rights, but they also depict the scale of the challenge we face in our quest to protect the future of our girls.
Child marriage in Pakistan is deeply rooted in poverty, tradition, lack of education, and patriarchal societal norms. It’s often seen as a tool to secure the future of girls or to settle family debts. The consequences are dire, leading to health risks, increased likelihood of domestic violence, and a cycle of poverty that is hard to escape.
A Comparative Study: Other Muslim-majority Countries
Understanding the broader context of child marriage in Muslim-majority countries is crucial for designing effective strategies. This comparison is not meant to justify or diminish the issue in Pakistan, but to provide insights into the diverse socio-cultural dynamics at play.
In countries like Indonesia, Bangladesh, and Niger – which have substantial Muslim populations – child marriage rates are high. Bangladesh, for instance, has the highest child marriage rates in Asia, with approximately 59% of girls married before 18.
On the other hand, countries like Tunisia, Turkey, and Albania, despite being Muslim-majority countries, have managed to keep child marriage rates comparatively low due to stringent laws, effective enforcement, and an emphasis on girls’ education. For instance, Tunisia, with an Islamic family law in place since 1956, has been successful in largely eradicating child marriage.
Learning from Best Practices
The difference in child marriage rates within Muslim-majority countries indicates that religion is not the sole determinant of this issue. Factors such as legislation, socio-economic conditions, education, and cultural practices play a substantial role. Lessons from countries like Tunisia and Turkey underscore the importance of strong legal frameworks, law enforcement, and societal education in combating child marriage.
Pakistan, too, has begun making progress. The Sindh Child Marriage Restraint Act, 2013, was a significant step forward, setting the minimum marriage age at 18 and imposing stricter penalties for offenders. However, the implementation of the law remains a challenge due to deep-rooted societal norms and practices.
Our Collective Responsibility
As part of the Women’s Parliamentary Caucus, we are committed to creating a safe, inclusive, and progressive society for all, particularly our young girls who are disproportionately affected by child marriage.
We advocate for robust legislative reforms across all provinces, mirroring or improving upon the precedent set by the Sindh Child Marriage Restraint Act. We push for the effective enforcement of these laws, holding accountable those who permit or conduct child marriages.
We also acknowledge the power of education in breaking the cycle. Our focus remains on promoting girls’ education, implementing gender-inclusive curriculum, and raising awareness about the pernicious impacts of child marriage.
Lastly, we understand the importance of engaging religious and community leaders in our advocacy work. Their influence can help reshape societal norms and perceptions, creating a supportive environment for our girls to thrive.
Ending child marriage is not the responsibility of a single group, but the collective obligation of society. Our children are our future, and it is our duty to protect them. Together, we can and we must end child marriage in Pakistan.
Author: Waqar ul Shams – Interprovincial Coordinator