Sir: The ‘child bride marriage season’ will come again in rural Pakistan, just after Moharram. I have received several wedding invitations from my acquaintances and friends belonging to the rural areas, particularly from Sindh and Balochistan. Whenever I have asked about the age and the educational qualification of the bride and groom, the answer has been that, unlike educated people from the big cities, they are not bothered about the age and education. Regrettably, every year, innumerable underage girls become child brides. The majority of these girls do not receive education or reproductive health services. Once a girl is married, she is at greater risk of domestic violence, likely to get pregnant early, more likely to die during pregnancy and more vulnerable to HIV. I have also seen many girls in my home district of Larkano who are school going but they have given birth to two or three children and, by the time they are in their thirties, they have produced a dozen children.
Enlightened individuals and other relevant organisations lament the failure of federal and provincial organisations to combat child marriages, which have alarmingly increased due to several factors such as tribal killings, illiteracy, extreme poverty, lack of recreational avenues and deterioration of the agro-economy. The existing laws alone have proved ineffective for preventing child marriages and hence stronger legislation needs to be made in this regard. Behavioural changes are possible only through education, advocacy and counselling and, for this, we have to make collective efforts. The provincial governments must promote the empowerment of girls, addressing their unique needs. They must also ensure that girls receive their basic rights, including access to health care.