THIS is apropos the news item about early marriage (Feb 23). It says that approximately half of Pakistani girls are married before they are 18 years old and nine per cent of the girls begin child-bearing between 15 and 19 years.
Unfortunately, in families with limited resources, child marriage is often seen as a way to provide for a daughter’s future. However, girls who marry young have more chances of remaining poor.
Early marriage thwarts a girl’s chance of acquiring education, endangers her health and cuts short her personal growth and development.
The risk of death for pregnant girls under the age of 15 is five times higher than for women in their twenties. Taken together, the costs for this practice are too high to be ignored. Societies cannot progress when the common practice of marriage dooms them to a life of poverty.
On the other hand, early marriage is outlawed in the country under the Marriage Restraint Act 1929. The minimum age of marriage is 18 years for males and 16 years for females under the said Act. While child marriage is punishable with an imprisonment of one month and a fine of Rs1,000, the said punishment for contracting or facilitating a child marriage is absurd considering the harmful physical and psychological impacts on children.
Furthermore, there are other deficiencies as well in the Act such as it discriminates against the girl child.
On the other hand, attempts to amend the Marriage Restraint Act 1929 failed to materialise in 2009 when the Amendment bill was presented in the National Assembly. Therefore, keeping in view the interest of the child the government should revisit the amendment to the Marriage Restraint Act 1929, as it calls for raising the age of girls to 18, same as that of boys, and substantive increase in the penalty as well.