In Pakistan, at least 21% of the girls are married before the age of 18. Of these, 43% are from 11 to 15 years old and 32% are 6 to 10 years old. These statistics have been derived only from the reported cases of child marriage in the country; there are countless more that go unreported.
Poverty, illiteracy, social and gender inequality are among the common driving factors of child marriages in Pakistan.
In a 2015 research paper titled, Child Marriage and its Impact on Maternal and Child Health in Pakistan, it was stated that the percentage of girls getting married younger than 18 in rural Sindh is 72%, with Balochistan following in at 63% and Punjab at 20%. In Balochistan, approximately 6 out of every 10 girls and 2 out of every 10 boys are married before the age of 18.
The health implications of child marriages include pregnancy complications, rising infant and maternal mortality rates and severe weakness in new mothers. The social implications include domestic violence and denied opportunities for education and work. This contributes to the rise in illiteracy and poverty because the girls are ill-equipped to fulfill today’s livelihood needs.
The previously implemented law prohibiting child marriage was the Child Marriage Restraint Act (1929). It discourages the solemnization of child marriages and sets 18 years as the marriageable age for boys and 16 years for girls. Perpetrators are punishable with imprisonment that may extend to one month and a fine of up to Rs. 1000.
However, this law has a few shortcomings. It states that no court can take notice of such a complaint unless it has been filed by the respective Union Council or MPA, and that too within a year of the offence. The penalties it sets are too lenient for today. The biggest weakness of the Act, however, is that while it penalizes the adults involved, the marriage does not stand dissolved.
The Child Marriage Restraint (Amendment) Bill was presented at federal and provincial levels. The amendment called for stricter punishment against perpetrators and raising the marriageable age of girls to 18. However, it still lacked a clause for the dissolution of the marriage.
The amendment was wholly approved in Sindh, while only the clause for stricter punishment was approved in Punjab. It was rejected in Balochistan because the Council of Islamic Ideology declared it unacceptable on the grounds that Islam does not state a specific age for marriage.
In 2015, the bill to prohibit the solemnization of child marriage was presented to the national and provincial assemblies. This bill clearly defines an adult as a person over the age of 18 and a child as one under the age of 18. It then points out that appearance or puberty are not grounds to consider anyone an adult. It declares that the court must make a decision on the case within three months from the date of filing the complaint.
The bill sets stricter penalties for perpetrators; imprisonment of at least one year as well as Rs.100, 000 in fines. It states that the Nikkah Registrar must ask for the CNICs of the bride and groom to ensure they are both adults. An adult male marrying a child would be punishable with 3 years’ imprisonment and Rs.200, 000 of fine. It also states that once the court has taken notice, the marriage will stand dissolved. It contains multiple safeguards for the children that are married illegally as well as any child born out of these marriages. The bill calls to repeal the Child Marriage Restraint Act (1929).
This bill has been passed in its entirety in Sindh and is on the table in Punjab and KPK assemblies. Former Chief Minister of Balochistan Sanaullah Khan Zehri rallied for the bill to be discussed in the assembly. However, Zehri’s cabinet was dissolved and he was forced to resign before any further action could have been taken.
Recently, Dr. Shama Ishaq Baloch led a committee on Child Marriage. She met with social activists and Balochistan Awami Party’s (BAP) member Sana Durrani along with members of Balochistan National Party (BNP) to discuss further action. The present government has expressed its plans to continue discussion on the bill as soon as possible.
Thus, it is imperative for the social growth and development of Balochistan that its children be protected. To ensure that, the government must pass laws that safeguard their human rights, like the bill to prohibit solemnization of child marriage.