By: Basit Jawed
Karachi: “Who is this, father?’’, asked the 10-year-old girl, excited to meet her father’s new friend.
“He’s a very great man. He’ll take you on a ride and buy you toys. Go with him.”
“Thank you father”, she left her father’s hand and ran into the arms of the man standing in front of her. The next thing she knew, she was taken into a one room apartment, where a maulvi sahib sat waiting for her arrival. Soon, the little girl, who was only familiar with dressing dolls, was now dressed as a newly-wed bride. Unable to comprehend, what had happened, she started living with her father’s friend and at a tender age of 12, she became the mother of a baby girl. Her good ‘uncle’ started becoming the ‘evil’ husband. He returned home drunk and used to beat his young wife with steel rods and belts. The innocence was replaced by a horrific picture, body scarred, and eyes pale. For the first time, she regretted being a girl. The once joyful and naughty Bisma had now turned into a weak, responsible girl, who had to take care of her daughter as well as her drunken husband. Years and years passed before Bisma realized that the reason she was put into this hell was because her father was unable to repay a loan taken from his friend (her husband).
This is just one example of child marriage. There may be numerous other examples, where girls like Bisma are subjected to this terrible crime and there is nobody to save them. Pakistani girls are more vulnerable to the forced child-marriage concept than Pakistani boys. According to the Pakistan Demographic and Health Survey (2006-2007), one-third of the girls are married before they turn 18. In the age group of 15-19, one in 10 girls is either already a mother or is pregnant.
Child marriages have some terrible consequences on the psychological as well as physical health of young girls. Not only the girl, the children she gives birth to also suffer through great physical illness, as they are born weak, immature and they are not well-nurtured. The maternal mortality rate is high in child marriages, as young girls are not too strong to bear the pain of early pregnancies and die while giving birth.
The major causes of these child marriages include lack of implementation of laws, lack of education and awareness in many rural parts of the country, and some customary traditions in different societies. The feudal structures in many parts of the country also encourage the trend of child marriages, where parents have to marry their young daughters to feudal lords, when unable to repay a loan or settle a debt.
Child marriage is not only a national issue, but a global one. Out of the fifteen million girls who are married before the age of eighteen each year, many are as young as eight years of age. In some of the developing countries, one in three girls are married before they have turned eighteen. The practice is most common in South Asia, parts of Africa and Middle East. In a country like Pakistan, where the flood victims in Punjab are still waiting for the government aid to reach, the issue of child-marriage is in a long waiting list to be addressed. For the government to resolve this issue, it will first need to ensure that the literacy rate of the country increases and that every child, male or female, is educated well enough to be aware of the consequences of early marriage.
The writer is student of MBA-Marketing at IoBM Karachi.