For decades, the menace of child marriage has cast a shadow over Pakistani society, shattering the futures of countless children. Despite the presence of laws prohibiting the practice, child marriages continue at an alarming rate across the country. A provincial-level consultation workshop was organised in Peshawar to address the issue. The Caretaker Provincial Minister for Social Welfare and Women’s Empowerment assured that the government is actively working on preventive measures and intends to present a comprehensive roadmap for legislating the minimum age to the next elected government.
According to Unicef, Pakistan has approximately 19 million child brides. An estimated 4.6 million girls were married before the age of 15 and 18.9 million before 18. While child marriages are more common in rural and tribal areas, they are not completely absent from urban areas either. Various factors, including patriarchal mindsets, archaic and conservative cultural norms and poverty contribute to the persistence of this issue. Early marriages deprive both girls and boys of the education and skills necessary for securing stable employment. Consequently, this fosters economic dependence on families perpetuating cycles of poverty and illiteracy within communities. Moreover, child marriages reinforce gender inequalities by upholding traditional roles, often forcing young brides to shoulder domestic responsibilities at the expense of their personal and professional aspirations thereby perpetuating unequal power dynamics.
Child brides face higher risks of reproductive health problems and increased vulnerability to different forms of domestic violence. The absence of sufficient legal and social protection intensifies the challenges confronted by young brides. All stakeholders must ensure that their efforts yield tangible results. Besides involving the Council of Islamic Ideology, strategies must be devised to overcome obstacles hindering the implementation of laws addressing child marriages. We must not jeopardise children’s futures but instead, provide them the dignity and freedom they deserve.
Editorial published by Express Tribune on 28-01-2024