CHILD marriages are a regressive practice that deeply harms the girl child — typically made the victim of such a tradition. It is a fundamental human rights violation, and yet continues to be practised in many parts of the world. Recently, a report published by a wire agency shed light on the lax attitudes towards the practice in the US. It was revealed that nearly 5,000 requests to ‘import’ children to the US and nearly 3,000 instances of children seeking to bring in older spouses or fiancés to the country were approved by immigration authorities there. After Mexico, Pakistan was the country where the most requests came from. Since the Immigration and Nationality Act does not set minimum age requirements, all such acts were within the jurisdiction of the law. It is shocking that a country belonging to the ‘developed north’ and holding aloft the banner of human rights continues to show such indifference to the suffering of girls and women in this day and age. Furthermore, despite 18 being the legal age of consent, 48 states still allow the marriage of 16- and 17-year-old adolescents under ‘certain circumstances’. And 18 states allow children of any age to marry, granted they have their parents’ or a court’s approval, or in case of pregnancy.
In light of this report, it is important to remind readers that the UN SDGS — that both the US and Pakistan are signatories to — set 2030 as the target for ending all child marriage. Pakistan, too, has its share of contradictory laws, which, unlike the US, are applied more sloppily or not implemented. Since the passing of the 18th Amendment, only Sindh has increased the minimum age of marriage to 18 (from 16) for girls, while Punjab introduced amendments to the existing colonial-era law. Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa are yet to act. In our part of the world, the continued practice of child marriage is linked to both desperate poverty and misogyny that view girls as a burden, another mouth to feed, or property to be exchanged. Early marriages are also connected with the cycle of poverty and health complications, and they rob the child of another fundamental right: education. In this new year, legislators must pledge to make child marriage a thing of the past. This must apply to all countries where the abhorrent practice continues.