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Child marriage and problems

Published on 19th May, Edition 20, 2014

 

Adoption of Sindh child marriages restraint bill a right step

Child marriages bring a lot of misery to the children, particularly for the girl child. Child marriage increases problems for the families and in fact affects the whole life of a girl. This practice should strictly be discouraged while action should be taken against people involved in this evil-minded activity.

Complications of pregnancy and childbirth are contributing causes of death in young women aged 15 to 19 years in developing countries, according to Dr. Flavia Bustreo of the World Health Organisation. Young brides also face more violence, according to UN studies. Girls who marry before they are 18 are more probably to become victims of violence from their partner, with the risk increasing as the age gap between the couple gets larger.

According to tradition, poor families marry the young girls to reduce the family expenses on food, clothing and education. A big inducement can be the big dowries older men will pay for a young bride. In a statement published by the World Health Organization “by ending early marriages we can avert up to 30 percent of maternal deaths and also reduce the neonatal mortality rate.”

According to the UN Population Fund, most child marriages take place in South Asia and rural sub-Saharan Africa. This refers to females under the age of 18. They are among 39,000 girls forced into marriage every day around the world. They are sold like cattle and sheep to enrich their families. “The number of children marrying each year will grow by 14 per cent from 14.2 million in 2010 to 15.1 million in 2030 if current trends continue, warns the report titled “Marrying too Young: End Child Marriage” released by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).

In South Asia alone, the number of child brides is likely to increase from 24.4 million (4.9 million per year) in 2010 to 27.9 million (5.6 million per year) in 2030. South Asia has the highest prevalence of child marriages with 46 percent followed by sub-Sahara Africa with 37 percent.

The recent kidnapping of 200 of Nigerian school girls by Boko Haram group could face a life of misery either they will become slaves or child brides or they will be sold for a little amount in the markets across the globe if they are not rescued soon, humanitarian experts say. This is not first news as there reports of abduction of boys in Nigeria and other war-torn African countries face the misery of a life where they are forced to become beggars, miners or child soldiers. Girls like the nearly 300 mainly Christian teens abducted by the Boko Haram last month are more likely to be dispersed throughout the continent, Russia, the Middle East and even Europe, sold for a few dollars and forced to become prostitutes. Some escape, and make it back to their villages, while others are forced into the sex trade and exposed to brutality and disease.

According to Red24, a South Africa-based crisis management firm, there are more than 9,000 kidnappings annually in sub-Saharan Africa, with Nigeria accounting for more than two-thirds of them. The firm estimates that the number of child abductions could be in the thousands with many children being abducted to become child soldiers, slaves, prostitutes or child brides. Nigeria experts believe that they could serve as human shields. They may prevent the Nigerian military from bombing the rugged and impenetrable wilderness, as well as becoming the child brides of Shekau’s fighters.

More than one-third of all girls are married in 42 countries. The highest number of cases occurs in some of the poorest countries, the agency figures show, with the West African nation of Niger at the bottom of the list with 75 percent of girls married before they turn 18. In Bangladesh, the figure is 66 percent and in Central African Republic and Chad it is 68 percent.

Government statistics in South Sudan show half the girls of aged 15 to 19 are married, with some brides as young as 12 years old. In South Sudan, and some other countries, early marriage is seen as a way to protect girls from sexual violence. This is done to make certain that in future they do not bring shame on the family by getting pregnant out of wedlock. The widely circulated child marriage aggravate South Sudan’s pronounced gender gaps in school enrollment, contributes to surging maternal mortality rates, and violates the right of girls to be free from violence. In South Sudan there is a total lack of protection for victims who try to resist marriage. The women activists grouped under a project “Girls, Not Brides,” are trying to engage community leaders and traditional chiefs to end early and forced marriages. Human Rights Watch called for South Sudan’s government to clearly set 18 as the minimum age for marriage.

In India, the percentage of women getting married before the legal age of 18 has fallen by almost 50 percent between 2005 and 2009. Nevertheless about seven in 100 women are still getting married before they turn 18. Decline of incidents of under-aged brides have been almost similar in rural and urban India at around 45 percent.

In a society where women are not treated equally, life for a girl child becomes prejudiced unfair and substantially miserable. This is the case in most parts of Pakistan where girls are brutally singled out against their male opposite number. In face of a calamity whether it is manmade or natural; there are only women who are forcefully submitted to sacrifice and adaptability.

In Pakistan, early marriages have become a kind of ferocity against women. Almost 37 percent of women in the country get married before reaching the age of 18 years. Pakistanis are more involved in forced marriages as compared to people of other Muslim countries. Even in Europe, member of the Pakistani community force their daughters to marry a man of their choice. The customs and traditions like Vani, Swara, Vulvar and Watta Satta played an important role in girls, early marriages. Girls are considered as a heavy load on the family, and are married off at an early age. In some event, grooms are required to pay handsome money to the father of the girl. Dispute settlement is another important reason; girls are given to solve age-old disputes. It is guessed that 30 percent of all marriages fall into the category of child marriage which is more common in interior Sindh than in other parts of the country. Half of Pakistani women are married at the age of about 19 years, with 13 percent married by the time they are 15 and 40 percent by the age 18.

 

Women in Pakistan hardly go through her childhood because she is married off at a very early age. A woman becomes a mother even before she is entitled to get national identity card, a document of her identity and being as a citizen of Pakistan. Depriving a child of her childhood in Pakistan is awful but forcing her into a stage of life for which she is neither physically, nor emotionally and mentally prepared, is far more frightening.

Girls in Pakistan who marry before the age of 18 experience domestic violence than their peers who marry late. Child brides often show signs classic of child sexual abuse and post-traumatic stress. Such symptoms include feeling of despair, weakness and grievous depression. In Pakistan, one woman dies in every 20 minutes during childbirth and the major cause of the high maternal mortality ratio 276 per 100,000 live births is a child marriage. Child brides in Pakistan and in other undeveloped nations are at a deepening risk of sexual and physical abuse, reproductive health complications, HIV/AIDS infection and other adverse physiological and social outcomes.

Literacy rate in Pakistan is very low; people do not have awareness about the effects of child marriages. Birth registration system is very ineffective and non-responsive and it gives room for not handling the exact age of the girl. Besides, marriage registration process is fragile, marriage registrar and the union council officials do not perform their sincere duties. Most of the people are not conscious about child marriage act and they are of the opinion girls should marry anyhow as early as possible. Legislation should be done to discourage child marriages. Child Marriage: restraint Act 1929 which was modified in 1965 discourages child marriage but the number of children marrying each year will grow by 14 per cent from 14.2 million in 2010 to 15.1 million in 2030 if current trends continue, warns the report titled “Marrying too Young: End Child Marriage” released by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).

In South Asia alone, the number of child brides is likely to increase from 24.4 million (4.9 million per year) in 2010 to 27.9 million (5.6 million per year) in 2030. South Asia has the highest prevalence of child marriages with 46 percent followed by sub-Sahara Africa with 37 percent. Violation of law continues unabated. According to ‘Child Marriages Restraint Act 1929’, if a person having age around 40 years marries a girl under 15 years of age, he will face imprisonment for one month or Rs1,000 fine. However, there is four years imprisonment for the person above 50 years of age. The existing law should be reviewed to make it responsive to the present needs.

Current laws define 16 years as lower limit age for a girl to get into institution of marriage. However, there is no system to make sure that the bride is not minor. In fact mostly girls are not allowed to attend school therefore there is no authenticated record of their date of birth whereas the only certification takes place when they reach the age of 18 and apply for a national identity card.

The United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution on December 19, 2011 as the International Day of the Girl Child on October 11 where every girl child recognised their rights and the unique challenges girls face around the world.

The role of women in development of the society must be realized and program should be established for encouraging young girls to come forward for equality and role of women in development of country. There is the need to attach the computerized national identity cards with the ‘Nikahnama’ during the marriage to know the actual age of bride and groom.

The government and civil society organizations should initiate an awareness campaign in girls and boys colleges and universities about the early child marriage. The Sindh Assembly has taken the lead in prohibiting marriage of children, both girls and boys, less than 18 years of age, passing the Sindh Child Marriage Restraint Bill, 2013. Violations would be punishable with three-year imprisonment and fine. Although the bill was first introduced by two PPP legislators last year, its passage comes in the wake of a controversial statement, the Chairman of the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) made recently terming prohibition of underage marriage as un-Islamic. He had opined that children of any age could contract ‘nikah’ while consummation of marriage (rukhsati) is allowed only when the couple reaches puberty.

We hope the child marriage restraint law would soon be replicated by other provinces as well. Needless to say, though, it is not enough to enact good laws, effective implementation must also be ensured. For a beginning, a sustained public awareness campaign is in order. Sindh Assembly this last Monday unanimously adopted a bill called “The Sindh Child Marriages Restraint Bill, 2013,” into a law, thereby fixing the matrimonial age at 18 years for both male and female. With this, Sindh has become the first province in the country to legislate on child marriages after repealing the 1929 Act.

All members of Sindh Assembly stressed the need for the implementation of the law, which was primarily an amalgam of the government and private bills on child marriages. The private bill was presented in the house by PPP legislator, Sharmila Farooqui. With the passage of the law, Sindh has become the first federating unit of the country to pass such an act to bar the underage child marriages. The violation of the act will be treated as crime with minimum two years of imprisonment and a fine.

“Notwithstanding anything contained in the Code, an offence punishable under this Act shall be cognizable, non-bailable and non-compoundable,” the law states, adding that “The provisions of the Child Marriage Restrain Act, 1929, relating to the Province of Sindh are hereby repealed”.

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