By Shagufta Gul
October 24, 2018
Child marriage is not only an important social problem in Pakistan but it exists in many other countries as serious social issue. Pakistan ranks number six with the highest number of absolute child marriages numbering around 1090900 in the year 2017 with India on number one with 15 509 000. The list provided in UNICEF’s report on the state of Worlds Children includes Ethiopia, Brazil, Philippines Indonesia Thailand and Kenya too, making it 12 Muslim Countries in the list. As per Convention on the Rights of the child a child is defined as an individual under the age of 18 unless the law of a particular state sets the legal age of adulthood younger to it, however, the definition varies from country to country in alignment with the existing laws of each country.
Pakistan consists of majority of Muslims both Shia and Sunni sects and a population of 3to 4 percent non Muslim communities too. As per different available sources if we look at the appropriate age of marriage from religious point of view, apparently the boy or girl is eligible for marriage reaching the age of puberty, for girls it is the menstrual cycle which makes them eligible for marriage and so it is for a boy. However, there have been a few more research-based notions that eligibility for marriage depends upon the Maturity of the individual along with the physical signs of adulthood. Ayat Ullah Khumeni defines maturity in boys as a powerful presence of intelligence in one’s dealings one’s ability to safeguard possessions and spending in judicious manners, similarly, for girls it is the ability to manage a good life, her level of acceptance of the responsibility of motherhood and child rearing etc.
In Pakistan since the time of its inception the enforcement and formulation of laws of laws in accordance with Islam and Sharia has been the biggest challenge and the confusion prevails till date. The presence of different religious schools of thought before and after the independence has been with dual impact both positive and negative as it never let the issue of Sharia’s incorporation resolve both in the inherited. The different sects and religious school of thoughts could hardly agree upon a specific ideology to be adopted as a guideline, like which Sharia to have opted as a guideline.
As far as child marriage is concerned we inherited the 19 29 Child Marriage Restraint Act which prohibits the marriage of an individual under the age of 18 either boy and girl and a punishment of one-month imprisonment or affine of one thousand Rupees fine or both as per the severity of the incident, was mandatory under the act. There have been certain amendments at the provincial level like in Sindh provincial assembly passed the child marriage restraint act back in 2013 declaring the marriage of under 18 individual as punishable act with three years imprisonment or and Rs45,000 fine. Punjab assembly followed the footsteps in March 2015 by Passing the Punjab Marriage Restraint Act 2015 amendment and the penalties were enhanced to six months imprisonment and Rupees 50,000 fine or both. The Act sets the age of 16 for the girl and 18 for the boy as per an amendment in section four of the marriage restraint act 1929.KP and Balochistan have yet to materialize and finalize the legislation for this particular issue though as per a survey of Pakistan Demographic and Health survey the child marriage is 74percent in KP. In May 2017 a bill in the National assembly was rejected which proposed the marriage age 18 for the girl’s legislation
There are multiple factors if we look at the aforementioned figures of child marriages provided in the report by UNICEF. The first and most important is the religious directive which defines the eligibility for the girl to get married is the menstrual cycle, secondly we have a very prominent example from Sunnah, the life of Prophet Mohammed PBUH and his marriage with the mother of the faithful Hazrat Bibi Aisha, who was in her early childhood as per various authentic historical narratives. Historians have come up with many reasons for that marriage which may be justified as per circumstances of that particular time. Since we as Muslims believe in following the Quran and Sunnah for early marriages, a solid ground is there.
The illiterate masses do know something about the marriage but what were the actual reasons and circumstances for this specific marriage are rarely known to the general masses. As a result the early marriages are justified simply in the name of religion. Secondly the rampant growth in population According to UNPF Pakistan is the sixth most populous state with 208 million people and a growth rate of 2.4 percent without any visible family y planning program by state poor contraceptive measures and their awareness. Again the religious belief that the creator is responsible for the life food of every new born, is accepted without in-depth understanding of the idea and is supported by the religious leaders too.
Thirdly gender discrimination with preference for a boy resulting in more number of girls in poor families waiting for a male offspring resulting in more number of girls as dependents. The low-income poor families with many options either sending the girls and boys to religious seminaries, involving them in child labor (the latest incident of tortured girl Kinza) or just getting them married as so that they can have a shelter, food and produce children. Again we as a society are still stuck with the belief that it’s easier to handle control and mould a younger daughter in law as compared to a mature well-educated girl, as the elderly girls are really smart to be Controlled. We also are stuck with the stereotypical notion that the wife should look younger to the husband throughout her age, and for that reason, younger girls opted.
The issue needs to be dealt at multiple forums by the state and existing institutions to play their role effectively. The Council of Islamic Ideology has taken some serious stances in recent past by supporting legislation on triple divorce etc, however a more concrete collaboration on part of state and CII can be beneficial in handling the child marriage issue.
The National and provincial commissions on Status of women have to have rigorous follow up with the legislature particularly in KP and Balochistan for effective and practical legislative steps. Mass awareness programs at grass root level with the inclusion of community and religious leaders are the need of time Last but not the least Civil Society Organizations, though already involved in sensitization of society on various issues, must take the child marriage beyond projects and activities and try to continue the campaigns of awareness on regular basis.
Shagufta Gul has experience in the field of education and is currently working as a resource person in the development sector