Gaps and Challenges- Child Marriages

Child marriage laws do not dissolve child marriages

The Child Marriage Restraint Act, 1929, the Punjab Marriage Restraint (Amendment) Act, 2015, and the Sindh Child Marriage Restraint Act, 2013 do not provide provision(s) for dissolution of a child marriage under the respective Acts, if contracted or solemnised. The procedure is laid down in the Family Court Act, 1964, and the grounds for dissolution of marriages are laid down in the Dissolution of Muslim Marriages Act, 1939. This means a party wishing to obtain the invalidity of his or her child marriage must follow the procedures provided for in the applicable personal law governing marriage, which are often lengthy and costly (2).

Non-Muslims face similar issues also. The Christians Marriage Act, which applies to only Christians, does not contain provisions for annulling a marriage. This means that a person who wishes to end a child marriage must apply for divorce under the Divorce Act 1869, which allows divorce only if one of the parties has committed adultery, and allows annulment only on certain grounds(2).

Hindu girls can get their child marriages declared invalid by filing a petition in court under the Hindu Marriage Act, 2017. This court process is also likely to be costly and time-consuming (2).

Dissolution of child marriages under DDMA 1939 is restricted

The Dissolution of Muslim Marriages Act, 1939 (DDMA, 1939) allows Muslim girls to petition a court to dissolve their child marriages. However, the conditions under which the DMMA allows such dissolution are severely restricted. Dissolution is only possible for marriages contracted before the girl turned 16, and it must be applied for before the girl turns 18. Furthermore, it is only possible if the marriage has not yet been consummated (2). However, it is unlikely that a marriage will be unconsummated before a girl seeks to void it, especially given the obstacles girls face in accessing legal remedies to dissolve the marriage. Laws therefore places a significant practical burden on girls who must approach the courts before the age of 18 to have a marriage annulled, and girls who have been forced into sexual intercourse as part of a child marriage cannot have their marriage annulled under the DMMA, 1939 (2).

It becomes further challenging because court proceedings in Pakistan are often delayed, an action for annulment is likely to be expensive and drag on for several months, adding to the burden on girls who want to dissolve their marriage (2).

Inconsistencies between the CMRA and personal laws

There is also a lack of clarity on whether child marriage laws take precedence over conflicting personal laws regarding the minimum age for marriage. The courts in Pakistan have in past given judgements which interpret CMRA, 1929 in light of the uncodified principle in Muslim personal law that a boy and a girl can enter into marriage provided they have reached puberty. This severely undermines the effectiveness of the minimum age provisions set out in the CMRA, 1929.

On 9 February 2022, the Islamabad High Court declared unlawful the marriage of persons below 18 years of age and issued a written order on a petition filed by a woman seeking the return of her 16-year-old daughter, who had filed an affidavit stating that she had married of her own free will. The court order states that a female child under the age of 18 cannot be considered capable of freely giving consent to enter into a marriage contract simply because she shows the physical symptoms of puberty. A marriage contract in which one of the parties is a child under the age of 18 is therefore a contract executed for an unlawful purpose and has no legal effect. Such a marriage contract cannot be registered under the Muslim Family Laws Ordinance, 1961. Read the IHC Judgement. 

Gaps in Child Marriage Restraint Act, 1929: There is discrimination in the age of marriage for boys and girls. Age cannot be determined without the mandatory requirement of CNIC for marriage. There is an insignificant penalty of 1 month or a fine of Rs. 1,000/-. Offences are non cognisable, bailable and compoundable. The complaint procedure before the Union Council is complex and complicated. There are no protection and rehabilitation mechanisms for available victims of child marriages under the law.

It is important to note that the statute of limitations for filing a complaint under the CMRA of 1929 is particularly restrictive compared to the statute of limitations for serious crimes such as murder and rape, for which there is no statute of limitations under Pakistani laws (2). There is only a one-year statute of limitations for filing a complaint for a violation of the law. This extremely short period limits the ability to prosecute and punish violations of the CMRA 1929, especially since young girls who have been forcibly married may not be able to challenge their marriages until they are adults.

Gaps in Punjab Marriage Restraint (Amendment) Act, 2015: There is discrimination in the age of marriage for boys and girls. Age cannot be determined without mandatory requirement of CNIC. There is a minor penalty of 6 months and a fine of Rs. 50,000/-. Offences are non cognisable, bailable and compoundable. The complaint procedure before the Union Council is complicated. There are no protection and rehabilitation mechanisms available for victims of child marriages under the law.

Gaps in Sindh Child Marriage Restraint Act, 2013: The penalty applies only to male adults who marry a female child. The amount of the fine is not fixed, i.e. a judge can only impose a fine of a few thousand rupees. Rigorous imprisonment of maximum three years is not sufficient. Cases are heard by a judicial magistrate instead of the family court. There are no protection and rehabilitation mechanisms for victims of child marriages.

Societal Issues and Lack of Awareness

Social expectations and pressures within communities, as well as issues related to family honour, can contribute to the perpetuation of child marriages. Families may feel compelled to conform to these expectations, even if it means violating legal norms.In some cases, misinterpretations of religious teachings may contribute to the acceptance of child marriages. Despite Islam not explicitly endorsing the practice, cultural interpretations may differ, leading to the continuation of the tradition. Lack of awareness about the harmful consequences of child marriages, both among communities and sometimes even law enforcement agencies, can contribute to the prevalence of the practic



(1) NCRC. Policy Brief: The Legal Framework for Child Marriage in Pakistan. Pakistan, 2022

(2) Centre for Reproductive Rights. Ending Impunity for Child Marriage in Pakistan: NORMATIVE AND IMPLEMENTATION GAPS. United States of America, 2018.


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