This core pillar of development was set back last week when a bill to prohibit underage marriages was withdrawn from the National Assembly. This comes after a similar law was blocked in the Provincial Assembly of Gilgit-Baltistan a week earlier.
Freedom to choose
Plan International firmly believes that the minimum age of marriage is 18 year of age, as declared in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. No child should have to get married and no-one should be forced into wedlock.
When girls are given the freedom to marry later in life, as adults, this benefits everyone.
Girls who marry later are more likely to finish school, more likely to find work, and less likely to suffer the severe health issues that often accompany having children at an early age.
When girls aren’t contributing to society to the best of their potential, it robs them and the society they live in of the opportunity to truly progress. Research by the World Bank and the International Center for Research on Women shows that the worldwide economic cost to developing countries of failing to educate girls to the same standard as boys is likely substantial and is particularly felt by those living in extreme poverty. This adds significant weight to the argument that investing in ending child marriage is essential from both a human rights perspective and an economic one.
Married too soon
In Pakistan, nearly a quarter of all girls are married before they turn 18. Many are as young as 12 or 13. These girls will almost certainly leave school, and they will likely have children, perhaps several, long before they are mentally and physically ready, which can have dire health consequences. They won’t have the opportunity to work or have the freedom to make the choices that will have an impact on their lives.
Of course, child marriage also impacts negatively on boys in Pakistan, too. Recent research by Plan International shows that in select research areas (not nationwide), up to 13% of boys under 18 were also forced into early marriages.
One boy interviewed in Ranjanpur last year told Plan International, “I liked my wife before marriage but I did not want to marry at this age. I was very young, I felt scared. This marriage would have not taken place so early if my sister was not beaten.”
He wasn’t sure of his exact age, but estimated that he was 14 or 15 years old when he got married.
There have been several positive steps taken in Pakistan in the last couple of years. In 2014, the Sindh Assembly adopted an act raising the minimum age of marriage to 18. A bill introducing harsher penalties for marriage under the age of 16 was also introduced, in line with public statements the government has made to end child marriage by 2020. However, a child aged 16 is still a child.
Other countries around the world are also taking concrete steps to tackle child marriage. Malawi and Guatemala recently raised the minimum age of marriage to 18. Strong campaigns to strengthen enforcement and end child marriage are also being led by Plan International throughout Asia, including in Bangladesh, Nepal, India and Indonesia.
Plan International Pakistan is committed to working with the government of Pakistan and with the provincial governments to help achieve these goals. We are also working in communities throughout the country to help educate parents and children about their children’s rights and the dangers of early marriage.
In communities across Pakistan, more and more parents and children themselves are intervening to stop early marriage, making sure girls stay in school, and that children don’t get married until they are ready to, whether physically or emotionally.
Plan International hopes that the government of Pakistan will take note of the examples being set in the community, in the provincial assemblies and around the world, and take concrete action to end child marriage and to help girls and boys across Pakistan reach their full potential.
Find out more about Plan International's work in Pakistan