By: IMRAN TAKKAR
THIS is with reference to the news report on early marriages (Feb 1). It says that according to a UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), signed and ratified by Pakistan in 1990, everyone under the age of 18 was a child. It also deals with the subject of child marriages which was passed in 1929 under the Child Marriage Restraint Act.
Furthermore, it said that marriage of minors was a criminal offence. For the purposes of the Act, a ‘minor’ was defined as a person below the age of 18 years. However, a ‘child’ was defined as a male of less than 18 years of age and a female of less than 16 years.
The Act imposes a penalty of Rs1,000 and an imprisonment of one month in case of violation. The existing Child Marriages Restraint Act had not yet been able to control childhood marriages. Child marriages are made a cognisable offence which was currently treated as a non-cognisable offence.In Pakistan, poverty, illiteracy, social and cultural practices are factors cited for the prevalence of child marriages. An early marriage leads to early conception, which ultimately affects the health of a teenage girl i.e. more than one-third of maternal deaths in the country occurred among females who were married between the ages of 14 and 17 years.
Typically, enormous pressures to bear children are put on child brides. In the developing countries, the leading cause of death for young girls between the ages of 15 and 18 is early pregnancy.
Pakistan is a signatory to the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child, and a child is defined as below the age of 18 for both males and females. While in the Marriage Restraint Act 1929, there is the age discrimination between males and females which is a clear violation of child rights. The government had also signed the Convention on Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and was bound to formulate laws according to its global commitments but it was not being done.
Therefore, there is a need that an amendment to the Marriage Restraint Act 1929 be expedited, as it calls for raising the age of girls to 18 (a child, according to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, in any person under the age of 18), the same as that of boys.
Substantive increase in the penalty to at least Rs100,000 and immediate enforcement of the same must also be ensured.