The Burden of Child Marriage

by Mohsin Saleem Ullah
2 mins read

In many regressive societies, the term ‘child bride’ calls to mind the unsavoury practice of marrying a child, even a preteen, to someone much, much older. This is true for South Asian countries, including Pakistan and Afghanistan, carrying the highest burden of child marriage in the world. Recent Unicef estimates reveal a harrowing number of 290 million child brides in the region, which represents 45% of all child marriages globally.

Marriage is supposed to be a willing union between a man and a woman but is now frequently a transaction among families, where girls are bartered in exchange for valuable goods or sold under economic pressures. This has compelled parents to even push their preteen daughters into marriage, who may fetch a higher price for the family than a grown-up girl. But the practice of child marriage is also deeply rooted in our culture and abhorrent customary practices encouraging parents to yield their daughters before they elope from home, or their abduction may bring shame to the family.

In Pakistan, one in three girls is married before reaching the age of 18, as per the data released by Pakistan Demographic and Health Survey. Early-age marriages, undoubtedly, hinder the prospects of girls, making them susceptible to domestic violence, family abuse and health issues. They are forced to end their teenage days and enter adulthood before being physically or mentally prepared to shoulder the family burden and understand the sensitivity of wedlock. Besides, limiting the chance for education, health and the right to financial independence, child marriage contributes to high population growth.

Pakistan has made commitment, as part of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), to end all under-18 marriages by 2030. However, our current law, The Child Marriage Restraint Act 1929, still sets a legal marriage age at 16 for girls and 18 for boys, thereby discriminating in marriage ages for both genders. Besides Pakistan, other South-Asian countries are still using the same colonial-era legislation but with some important amendments that raise the marriage age for girls. For instance, in Nepal, the legal marriage age is 20 years, whereas in Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and India it is 18. Pakistan and Afghanistan are the only countries in the region that allow 16-year old girls to get married.

After the 18th Constitutional Amendment in 2010, the prevention of child marriages became a provincial subject. Sindh is the only province in the country that brought amendments to the federal law barring under-18 marriage for girls. Their Child Restraint Marriage Act, 2013 makes underage girls’ marriage a cognisable and non-compoundable offence, empowering police to act on their own to arrest an offender; and no private deals can be made between the accused and victim’s families to bypass the law. In 2015, Punjab Assembly passed amendments to its Child Marriage Restraint Act, a futile exercise by the legislature that only increased the terms of imprisonment and punitive fines on the guardian and male adults for contracting child marriage for girls below 16. Balochistan and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa continue to be governed by the 1929 Act, like the Federal territory.

Pakistan is a country that runs on a hybrid-legal regime, where every law or amendment brought to federal or provincial legislation is subjected to the overview of the Council of Islamic Ideology, having members from different religious factions. This is yet another obstacle in reinforcing amendments to laws concerning child marriage. Besides, within the parliament, repeated attempts have been made to amend the marriage age of girls, but the strong opposition from religious parties makes it difficult to pass any laws that contradict their beliefs.

To protect our girls from the menace of early marriages, there is need for a robust legislation in the entire country. Religio-political parties must set aside their tribal practices so that a law could be made in true spirit. This will help our girls protect themselves from the damaging effects of early marriages and lead healthier and freer lives in the country.

Acknowledgement/Credit: Published in Daily The Express Tribune, May 11th, 2023.


“The State of Children in Pakistan” is work in progress and the beta version has been released for testing purposes to get feedback on structure, layout and content.

Content Review and submission

We welcome and encourage you to review the content and provide feedback to help us correct errors, add useful information, provide updated information and further improve the recommendations. In addition, you are welcome to share with us articles, research, publications, case law, and other useful developments that fit the objective of the portal. Please share your feedback through feedback form 0r email us at

Website Content Review

We welcome visitors to review the content of The State of Children in Pakistan website to correct, update and improve it. An editorial team will review your contribution and include it with an appropriate acknowledgement. Please use the “Submission Form” to send us your suggestions.


Rapid care and feeding assessment in floods 2022
Previous Story

Rapid Care & Feeding Assessment in Flood Affected Areas

Platform launched by NADRA to monitor sex offenders
Next Story

Nadra launches platform to track sex offenders in Pakistan

Latest from Blog

Education laws

The Lahore High Court (LHC) has recently ruled that the Punjab government must establish rules under the Punjab Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2014, to ensure the compliance with this law at private schools. The ruling comes after a private school filed a petition against the denial of a registration…

Poliovirus found in Lasbela sewage sample

According to a news report, an environmental sample collected from Balochistan’s Lasbela district has tested positive for wild poliovirus type 1 (WPV1). The virus was found in a sewage sample collected from Lasbela, an official of the Regional Reference Laboratory for Polio Eradication at the National Institute of Health (NIH)…

Grace Marks by Sindh Government

In a move as surprising as it is contentious, the Sindh provincial government has decreed a generous 15% grace mark for students who faltered in their class XI examinations last year. The decision, prompted by an investigative committee report on the Board of Intermediate Education Karachi’s controversial results, comes as…

Pakistan’s State Party Report to CRC – Cycle VI-VII

Pakistan, as a State Party to the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), has recently submitted its State Party Report for Reporting Cycle VI-VII. This report serves as a comprehensive overview of Pakistan’s efforts and progress in promoting and protecting the rights of children in accordance with the…

Policy Brief on Child Trafficking

This report represents a state-of-the-art legislative/policy framework on the issue of child trafficking in Pakistan including recommendations for its effective improvement/implementation. It is published by National Commission on the Rights of Child (NCRC) with the support of UNICEF. Read Policy Briefing on Child Trafficking Post Views: 2…
Go toTop

Don't Miss

Costing Study on Child Marriage in Pakistan

The eradication of child marriage is an important and acknowledged

Policy Brief on Forced Conversion

The case of Arzoo Raja prompted the NCRC to look