No More Child Brides in Pakistan!
Bravo Sindh Assembly
The provincial assembly of
Pakistan’s Sindh Province recently
passed legislation prohibiting the marriage of girls under
age of 18. Will Pakistan’s other provinces follow this
(Photo from www.wunrn.com)
The provincial assembly of Sindh has taken the
daring lead on April 28, 2014, that deserves appreciation for
becoming Pakistan’s first elected assembly to have passed a bill
restraining child marriages for those who are under 18 years of age.
The passage of the bill has come on the heels of a controversy that
was triggered after the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) had ruled
that the prohibition of underage marriage was un-Islamic.
The new law will go a long way to help reduce the menace of child
marriages. After the 18th Constitutional Amendment, the issue of
child marriage is considered to be a provincial subject, and the
Sindh Assembly has adopted the correct stance by enacting a
much-needed piece of legislation and putting a ban on the unbridled
practice of child marriage in the province.
However, the other three provinces are yet to address this issue.
With the prevalence of approximately 30 percent of girls in the
country married off as child brides, the situation is even worse in
the interior of Sindh Province with a prevalence rate of 37 percent
of child marriages as opposed to 21 percent for urban areas.
Therefore, the new law is a welcome step and may prove to be a
remedy to the vicious cycle and ugly practice of girl brides. The
credit goes particularly to Sharmila Farooqi and Rubina Qaim Khani
and all human and women rights activists who have been highlighting
the harmful practice of girl child marriage in the country,
particularly in poor, rural communities of Pakistan.
Under the new legislation, the Sindh Child Marriages Restraint Bill
of 2013, “any groom who solemnizes marriage with a girl less than 18
years of age, parents of such a groom or those facilitating
contracting of such a marriage will be given a maximum of three
years of rigorous punishment but not less than two years.” The
offence is cognizable, non-bailable and non-compoundable. Anyone can
file a complaint against such a marriage in the court of a judicial
magistrate, and the court will ensure the case is decided within 90
days. It is pertinent to mention is that the previous law, the Child
Marriage Restraint Act of 1929, sets the minimum age of marriage for
girls as 16 years and does not allow police to intervene directly in
underage marriage, implying that sharia law is to be consulted.
The new legislation is also a befitting reply to the CII that
declared that the ban on child marriage is against religious
principles. The CII chairman, Maulana Mohammad Khan Sherani, said in
a recent statement, “The girls can get married at an early age. Once
a girl is mature (attains the age of puberty), she can enter into
marriage and is allowed to take a husband. The laws limiting the age
of marriage are un-Islamic.”
Human and women rights activists have widely condemned the
anti-women outbursts of the CII and have demanded the abolition of
this so-called constitutional body. Totally blind to the
repercussions of this unbridled menace, members of the CII and
religious clergies are oblivious to the health risks associated with
early sexual activity and childbearing. These so-called scholars are
never ready to think about the miseries of child brides, who are
more likely to be victims of domestic violence, sexual abuse and
social isolation. Often uneducated and unskilled, these young girls
are completely dependent on their husbands and in-laws to survive,
rendering them further vulnerable to various shades of exploitation.
The multiple reasons of child marriages are deeply rooted in
poverty, gender discrimination, conflicting laws, religious norms
and in centuries-old patriarchal traditions with devastating effects
on girls’ lives. These ugly traditions include swara, wani, sang
chati, paitlikkhi, watta satta, vulvaljai and khasaniyesoogo that
are unchecked in many parts of Pakistan, particularly in rural Sindh,
Balochistan and Punjab Provinces and the country’s northwestern
tribal areas. These black traditions hit hard the women through whom
young girls are exchanged to settle family or tribal or clan
disputes and feuds.
As a result, every year thousands of preteen and teenage girls
become the wives of older men. Young girls are married when they are
still children and as a result are denied fundamental human rights.
Early marriage compromises their development and often results in
early pregnancy and social isolation with little education
reinforcing the gendered nature of poverty. Required to perform
strenuous amounts of domestic work, under pressure to demonstrate
fertility, married girls and child mothers face constrained
decision-making and reduced life choices. Both boys and girls are
affected by child marriage, but the issue impacts girls in far
larger numbers, with more intensity and is more wide ranging.
Early marriage is a socially established practice that has been
carried on from generation to generation. Governments are often
either unable to enforce existing laws or to rectify discrepancies
between national laws and customary and religious laws. Most often
child marriage is considered a family matter that is governed by
religion and culture, which ensures its continuity. It remains
therefore a widely ignored violation of the rights of girls and
The real challenge therefore for the government of Sindh is now to
implement the law in both letter and spirit. It will have to make
underage marriage a valid basis for divorce and provide statutory
relief to victims of swara, vani and other similar practices. It
must ensure the registration of all births and marriages as per
provisions of the National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA)
Ordinance of 2000 through simplified procedures, and it must
implement the ban on verdicts of jirgas and panchayats and identify
support mechanisms within existing structures to ensure that the law
of the unified age of 18 is implemented after it is passed.
* Bushra Khaliq is executive director of Women in Struggle
Empowerment (WISE) who can be reached via e-mail at