Early Marriages and their Consequences in Pakistan – A Social Menace
A nine years old girl was married to an old man because her father was unable to return a loan that he had taken from her husband. At twelve years of age, she was divorced by her husband because she had given birth to a baby girl. After the divorce, her family did not accept her and due to social stigmatization and she attempted suicide. Every day we read in newspapers and on television about various cases of early marriages.
After reading this real case scenario, and other such cases in our society, various questions arise in my mind as to why parents marry their children at such a young age? What are its consequences? And as a health care provider, how we can contribute to minimize such cases from our society? These types of questions enforced me to write on this critical issue. According to UNICEF, early marriage is defined as marriage before age 18.
Although, in early marriages, both girls and boys are included but according to Santhya (2011), Pakistani girls are more susceptible to enforced early marriages than boys. In socio cultural context, it is a very significant issue that requires substantial attention. According to Pakistan Demographic and Health Survey (2006-2007), as cited in (Nasrullah. et al., 2013) one-third of girls are married before age 18 and one in 10 girls is either already a mother or is pregnant by age between 15 and 19.
These cases are increasing day by day and many cases are still under reported. Anon(2015) stated that 71% of early marriages were from rural areas of Pakistan and 30% were from urban areas. Therefore, it reveals that early marriages are more common in rural areas as compared to urban areas. According to social cognitive theory (Lent et al., 2015) three main components determine human behavior; first is an individual’s own knowledge and behavior; second is behavioral practices and skills, third being environmental factors.
Integrating this theory in early marriages, one of the main causes of early marriage is related to personal factors is illiteracy. Illiterate girls are unaware about their own legal rights related to marriage; even they do not know the consequences of early marriages. Moreover their uneducated parents are also unaware about negative impacts of early marriages. Secondly, the other cause of early marriage is poverty.
Poor parents consider their daughters as a burden, so they marry their daughters at an early age to minimize the number of members in a family. According to the international center for research on women (2010), the occurrence of early marriages in low income families are two times more than in higher income families. Third is an environmental factor which includes Social norms and customs.
As in our country, there are various customs in many rural areas such as bada custom in Sindh, and vani in Punjab, in which young girls are married to their family enemies to solve a blood feud between families. Likewise, wata sata, in which exchange marriages take place between two families without considering their age differences. (Kamal & Hassan, 2013).
Feeling of insecurity, fear of rape and abuse of children are other factors that lead to early age marriages. Moreover, some people think that if girls are not married till 15 years of age, then the society will question on their character. There are various consequences of early marriages. According to Santhya, (2011) girls who marry early suffer from many physical, mental and psychological health complications.
Sexual transmitted diseases and other severe infections also occur as a result of early marriages due to unawareness about contraceptive methods. Moreover; these children are married mostly to older men who are already involved in many sexual partners.
According to WHO, as cited in Council foreign relations, pregnancy complications which lead to death are twice more common in pregnant girls less than nineteen years of age as compared to those who are pregnant after twenties. 17 year old pregnant girls are at a 60% higher risk of death than those who are more than 19 years of age (UNICEF, 2009).
Besides these, health of the new born baby is also compromised and they may suffer from various physical and mental illnesses such as premature birth, weak immunity, and malnourishment. As health care providers, we should assess health related beliefs, their concerns and its impact on overall health.
For example, if the beliefs of the society and its pupils are incurring complicated health issues, we must negotiate and collaborate with scholars to amend these issues. At the community level, we can prevent complications in victims of early marriages by conducting counseling sessions about contraceptive methods .
To prevent poverty and empower women, we can teach various methods of income generation from already available resources at homes. To achieve these goals we can work in steps. According to economic skills building model (Hirani et al., 2010), to work on economic building interventions, one should work on four steps.
Firstly, arrange programs for mobilization and acceptance to seek help, to achieve this first we can think about strategies through which house restricted women can communicate with the outer world; for that we can connect them through electronic media or other alternate ways.
Secondly, select a target group. Thirdly, provide capability building skills like handicrafts, train them to develop communication skills and many more vocational skills which may help them to earn bread for their own, their families, and better taken care by society. In conclusion, child marriages are very common issue in our country, especially in rural areas and can have many negative consequences.
It is caused by various factors such as poverty, illiteracy, lack of awareness, cultural and social norms. In my point of view, we can curb this drastic issue at its grass root level by giving awareness about its complications and by arranging counseling sessions in the community with collaboration of other authoritative people of the community.
About the Author: Rubina Aman is a student of 2016 BScN at Aga Khan University School of Nursing, Karachi, Pakistan. She is also a member of Sigma Theta Tau, International. She nurtures a passion to explore the health, educational, social, and economical issues of Pakistan, especially rural areas. Through her writings, she wants to create awareness about the root causes of problems in Pakistan and bring the reader’s attention towards positive steps that can be taken to curb the issues that prevail in our society. My areas of interest are Geriatric, Public health, Public and Mental health. Serving humanity is her primary aim in life. She can be reached at [email protected].
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