The Menace of Child Marriage in Pakistan: No End to This Horror Story
Child marriage is defined by the UNICEF as marriage before 18 yrs of age. It is the unfortunate reality for more than 60 million women worldwide and is a gross human rights violation. Though it has declined worldwide in the last 20 years, it still remains in practice in South Asia where more than half of all the child marriages globally, take place.
The Pakistan Demographic and Health Survey (2006-07) mentioned in its section of teenage fertility that almost half the girls in age group 15-18 were pregnant or already were caring for a baby – the exact number is not available due to lack of proper documentation and data collection. Since 1998 Pakistan has not conducted a population census which could have helped to understand the real picture more clearly. This practice has severe implications on national development, education and vocational opportunities, economic condition & health factors for a vast population of this part of the world.
Causes of Child Marriage
In Pakistan, there are various factors responsible for child marriages, such as social vulnerabilities including society’s view of family, its structure and role, pattern of life style and responsibilities of each member in the family. Economically, girls are viewed as a burden on their parents and families as they are assumed to be unable to earn and bring money to the family. Many cultures which hold norms of child marriage also fear that, with the delay in marriage, incidence of premarital sex will increase.
Additionally, there are no strong central autonomous bodies for children that could supervise child rights violations including the issue of child marriages. Extremely weak legislation, lack of awareness in the people about the consequences of child marriages, and ineffective birth registration system have also negatively contributed to the issue.
Psycho-social consequences of child marriage
The harmful repercussions are many, including loss of adolescence, forced sexual relations, separation from family and friends, lack of freedom to interact with friends, and decreased opportunities for education and medical care. These intense emotional and psychological consequences can cause devastating impacts, both subtle and insidious, like isolation, loss of mobility, depression, bipolar disorder and others.
During my mental health clinical rotation at Karachi Psychiatric Hospital, I encountered a 23 year old female who was a victim of early marriage, brought to the hospital because she had attempted suicide three times. She was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Experts suggest that child marriage is associated with increased suicidal ideation and suicide attempts. This patient also verbalized that due to strong orthodox beliefs and tradition, her father forced her to marry at the age of 13 just after menarche. For 2-3 years after marriage she was unable to conceive a baby so her husband used to beat her.
Exploitation of Child as Loss of Adolescence
For most of the children in Pakistan especially those who belong to rural masses and are underprivileged, there is no period of adolescence. As soon as they shift from childhood to adulthood, they become pregnant adults or become parents. The time when they need support, encouragement, advice and confidence, they have to adjust to the unfamiliar environment of their new home.
Denial of Education
Married children are seldom permitted to continue their education, with the exception of a few families, who encourage children to complete their education first. The age in which children should think of getting higher education, these little angels are crushed under multiple responsibilities which not only cause hindrance in their personal development but also spoil their adolescence.
Denial of Freedom
Women are not allowed to go out alone and in many cultures, permission from husband is required. A girl becomes mother, wife and daughter-in-law at a very tender age, so she is restricted from moving freely. Boys are also crushed under responsibilities, they are expected to bring money for their family which ruin their adolescent freedom. But in my opinion girls face more restrictions than boys. This idea is supported by UNICEF: cccording to UNICEF (2001) most girls in forced marriage become socially isolated and they are surrounded by the people who endorse their condition.
Personal Development and Inadequate Socialization
Child marriage, along with illiteracy, lack of decision-making capability, inequality and sexual exploitation, not only affect their mental health adversely, but also cause hindrance in their growth and development. Girls are emotionally more attached to their parental family than boys. A girl child is vulnerable and she is more prone to psychological distress because of detachment from family after marriage that too at a very tender age. Many women get depressed and become isolated. They suffer from insomnia, find it difficult to eat, face concentration problems, and feelings of guilt, their self-esteem is also decreased following the incident.
Satisfaction is a mental state which helps in increasing one’s self esteem through expression of positive feeling about what he has achieved in his life. A happy and fully satisfied person can make better adjustments which would increase harmony in family. But victims of early marriage have low satisfaction level so they often experience feeling of guilt and they have low self esteem.
In conclusion, child marriage imposes upon them a responsibility and burden which not only cuts short their childhood, but also infringes upon their fundamental rights. It violates their basic human rights and puts their physical and mental health in grave danger impacts of child marriage in this context because of marked lack of data in these areas. However, to bring society out of this mental barrier, mass awareness about the harmful effects of child marriages should be raised. Mass media campaigns can be the best possible option to spread the message. Moreover, Pakistan should seek help from developed countries where child marriage rates are near to zero.
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