Recently, the marriage of a five-year-old girl in Pakistan’s western province of Balochistan has sparked debate over the role of conservative religious figures in child protection and family matters.
In October, police in Pakistan’s Baluchistan province arrested two men after receiving a tip-off that they had forcibly married a five-year-old girl. The girl’s uncle says that a local man insisted on the girl’s relationship for his son’s marriage and the girl’s father was pressured into the marriage.
“We had repeatedly explained to them that the girl was too young to get married,” he further told DW. He also said that a video recording of this ‘Vita Satta Ki Shaadi’ was made and then the police was informed.
The local police chief said that the police have arrested those responsible for arranging the marriage and the case is not yet over. He further said that he is trying to arrest the Nikah Khawan, who performed this Nikah.
However, this is not a unique phenomenon in Pakistan. According to UNICEF, there are about 19 million child brides in Pakistan. According to an estimate by this organization, about 4.6 million girls were married before the age of 15, while 18.9 million girls were married before reaching the age of 18.
Tribal areas of Pakistan, trend of early marriage
Tahira Habib from the Lahore-based Human Rights Commission of Pakistan told DW that 99 cases of child marriage were reported in 2022. He further said that this number is like salt in flour as such families fear stigma. According to Tahira Habib, most cases of child marriages occur in the tribal areas of Pakistan.
Yasmin Lehri, a former legislator from Quetta, the capital of Balochistan, said that in the tribal and rural areas of the province, girls are married off before the age of 18. “Marriage is done at the age of 18 or above but the situation is quite serious in the rest of the province.”
He says that poverty and economic factors play an important role in this matter. Often the marriage of young girls is arranged between families so that these young girls can be made to do housework or labour.
Opposition from religious parties on setting minimum age for marriage
Across Pakistan, civil society is active for the abolition of child marriage and stricter legislation. In this regard, she is working together with religious parties, government and different communities to change this attitude. Pakistani legislator Kishore Zahra says that the biggest obstacle in the legislation to set the minimum marriage limit is the religious community.
He told DW that when the bill in this regard was presented in the National Assembly, religious-minded members strongly opposed it. Maulana Shirani, the former head of the Council of Islamic Ideology strongly opposes the legislation to set the minimum marriage limit. The council has advised the government to make the legislation in line with Islam.
In 2014, the council declared a law to prevent child marriages as ‘un-Islamic’, prompting concern from the media and civil society. Former lawmaker Yasmin Lehri said that when the bill to set the minimum marriage limit was presented in the Balochistan Assembly, it was strongly opposed by religious parties.
Former legislator Samia Raheel Qazi says that the minimum age limit for marriage for girls should be 18 years. Instead of advocating western values and blaming religion, a massive and effective awareness campaign is needed to root out this problem.
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