Wednesday, April 24, 2013

How to curb child marriages in Pakistan

Eight-year-old Zahida was married to Dilshad, 17, by her father Abdul Rasool in exchange for Dilshad`s sister, whom the father wanted to marry. Can anybody call this a marriage? And one can only thank the media for pointing it out, before Abdul Rasool could marry Dilshad`s sister.
This is obviously not an isolated case, and child marriages amongst children — and girls being married to adults — are a regular feature in our society. This is happening in a state whose founder introduced the Child Marriage Restraint Act 1929 as a private members bill in the British Indian Legislative Assembly. He himself married an under-18, and thus perhaps knew the hazards of such marriages.
We must also give our colonial masters the credit for introducing certain laws to protect the female segment of the populace. Female infanticide was one such custom that was prevalent in certain parts of India, and which was banned.
Girls were put to death at birth by some parents because of the possible failure to find them a husband might bring disgrace to the father.
A related custom was to marry children at a very young age. This applied equally to Hindus and Muslims. The reasons were many, including domestic and sociological causes, like desiring to perpetuate the family name by marrying the son early; by marrying the daughter early to escape the discredit caused to the family by the presence of a grown-up maiden; or by the desire of the mother to marry her son early so that she may sooner obtain possession of a daughter-in-law in whom the mother could inculcate habits of obedience and who could share the domestic chores with her.
Some even married their young daughters to the Holy Qur`an, or an idol, sword, dagger, arrow or a tree so that they may not appear unmarried to conquerors or their Creator.
Statistics with regard to child marriage are mind-boggling. According to the 1901 census, for instance, 121,500 boys and 243,500 girls under the age of five years were married. Between the ages of five and 10 years the figures were 760,000 and 2,030,000 respectively.
There were no less than 1,277,000 widowed persons under 20 years of age in 1901, of whom 914,000 were females; of these, 6,000 widowers and 96,000 widows were less than five years of age; 37,000 widowers and 96,000 widows between five and 10 years of age and 113,000 widowers and 276,000 widows between 10 and 15 years of age.

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