Child marriage- a gross violation of Human Rights
By Amir Murtaza
There is no denying that early and forced marriage of children is a flagrant violation of basic human rights; however, despite widespread condemnation it has been confirmed, through media, civil society and government reports, that more than forty five countries, including Pakistan, have child bride problem. Besides, Pakistan the problem is rife in Afghanistan, India, Bangladesh, Nepal, and in many Middle East and African countries.
Advocate Ashraf Salman explained that as per Article 1 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), “a child means every human being below the age of eighteen years”. The Karachi based advocate further said that marriage below 18 years of age for girls violates their basic rights as a child as well as a human being. According to a TrustLaw Special Report on Child Marriage, appeared in August 2011, states, “A girl under the age of 18 is married every three seconds -- that's 10 million each year -- often without her consent and sometimes to a much older man, according to the children's charity Plan UK. Most of those marriages take place in Africa, the Middle East or South Asia.” “This is one of the biggest development issues of our time and we're committed to raising the voices of millions of girls married against their will,” Plan UK head Marie Staunton said in her introduction to "Breaking Vows", a recent global report on child marriage.
Shabana is a mother of eight children and at the age of 30, she looks more than 50 year old. She got married at the age of 13, in his native village located in Southern Punjab, with his cousin who is 15 year elder than her. Shabana said, “I was really very young at that time and even didn’t know the meanings of marriage and marriage life. I remember that my mother told me about my marriage, a week before the ceremony; however, I told her that I wanted to continue my education and become a doctor.” She was in class sixth, when she got married with her cousin. “I was so upset during the initial years of my marriage and the birth of my first child at the age of 15 really made me extremely mad that even I thought about committing suicide.” Shabana further said, “In my house I was not required to do all domestic chores; however, after marriage I regularly work 14 to 16 hours daily, in and outside the house. Despite such hard work my husband beats me severely, even in front of my children, which is a real embracement for me.”
Pakistan has signed and ratified the U.N. Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and Article 16 of CEDAW mentions: 1. States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in all matters relating to marriage and family relations and in particular shall ensure, on a basis of equality of men and women: a. the same right to enter into marriage;
b. the same right freely to choose a spouse and to enter into marriage only with their free and full consent; c. the same rights and responsibilities during marriage and at its dissolution; 2. The betrothal and the marriage of a child shall have no legal effect, and all necessary action, including legislation, shall be taken to specify a minimum age for marriage and to make the registration of marriages in an official registry compulsory.
Mumtaz got married at the age of 12 with a distinct relative of her mother. Her husband was 32 when he paid a handsome amount to the parents of Mumtaz for their marriage. Mumtaz informed, “I was absolutely not ready for marriage and any physical relation with an adult and mature male. I was not able to talk with my parents to make any change in the timings of marriage or choice of husband. I became pregnant at the age of 14 and since my first delivery; I have been constantly facing severe health problems.”
Despite severe health problems Mumtaz has delivered six children in last twelve years. Mumtaz further informed that her younger sister, Najma, also got married at the age 12; however, Najma was not as much fortunate as her sister and died only at the age of 14, due to her first pregnancy related complications.
Dr. Shazia Irfan is an experienced gynecologist and ardent advocate of human, women and child rights. She observed that child marriage is a sever violation of minor girls’ sexual and reproductive health rights. She informed that minor pregnant girls are at very high risk of acquiring diseases as pregnancy suppresses their immune system.
Dr. Shazia Irfan referred some researches and informed, “Because their bone structure, and reproductive organs are not yet fully developed, young girls, especially ages 14 and younger face a very high risk of complications in pregnancy and childbirth compared with older adolescents.” She also informed that it is roughly estimated that 30,000 women die each year, in Pakistan, due to pregnancy related complications. However, data regarding the age of these ill-fated women is not available therefore it is difficult to determine minor age as a primary contributing factor in 30,000 maternal mortality in Pakistan, during a single year. Dr. Shazia Irfan believed that child marriage is a major health problem and a root cause of maternal mortality and morbidity in Pakistan.
Advocate Ashraf Salman informed that Pakistan’s Muslim Family Law and the Child Marriage Restraint Act 1929 has made under-age marriages a penal offence. According to the law, minimum age of marriage for a male is 18 years whereas the minimum age of marriage for a female is 16 years. However, the lawyer opined that implementation of the mentioned law is absent and thus child marriages are routine rather than exception in Pakistan.
Muhammad Ali, President Roshni Helpline, informed that his organization has been working in poor and disadvantaged communities, all over Sindh, for more than five years. He said that child marriages are the outcome of severe poverty, prevailed especially in rural parts of the country poverty, as in many cases parents could not afford to feed their daughters. He further informed that poverty stricken parents find it easy to shun their responsibilities and get their young daughter, in some cases even as young as 6 year old, married to anybody who wish and willing to pay a certain amount.
Muhammad Ali observed, it is customary that the groom has to pay a handsome amount to bride’s parents and unfortunately such bride payment has become socially acceptable. The Roshni Helpline President recommended that creating awareness about the abhorrent practice is direly required and electronic media should play their due role in this regard.
It is absolutely necessary that government, civil society organizations and media should coordinate with each other to prevent abuse of girl children’s rights in the country. As child marriage is a traditional and customary practice in this part of the world; therefore, concrete and coherent efforts are required to make people aware about the perilous affects of child marriage on girl child. Furthermore, strict implementation of UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and local legislation could prevent this abhorrent practice.
(The writer is a Karachi based researcher)