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Young brides: Why are they

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Let us become the first generation to decide to be the last that sees empty classrooms, lost childhoods and wasted potentials. Let this be the last time that a girl is forced into early child marriage. Let this end with us. Let’s begin this ending, together, today, right here, right now.” Malala Yousofzai’s spoke to the world at Nobel Peace Prize in 2014. With this enthusiasm and commitment, the fight against child marriage has to be fought. Otherwise, the upward trajectory of child marriages could not be halted. Statistics available are alarming.
Pakistan Demographic and Health Survey (PDHS), 2017-18 cited that 3.3 percent of girls are married off under the age of 15 while 18.3 percent of girls are married off under the age of 18; however, private-sector research sources reported that 21 percent of girls get married before 18 years during 2020-21. This vast segment of the population is at high risk of physical, psychological, and economic violence. The situation may aggravate if the decision-makers fail to nip the evil from the bud by comprehending the drivers that encourage child marriages because the law is not enough unless it copes with all social factors promoting evil practices. Among those, poverty, illiteracy, customary practices (the notion of honor, Valwaar, Watta Satta), male-domination mind, and family power dynamics.
The upward trajectory of child marriages in rural Pakistan is often aggravated by limited means of livelihood. Thus, child marriage serves as a strategy to off their liability. An impoverished family who is struggling for livelihood cannot afford to pay the girls’ school fees. Marry daughters is an easy escape for them and to lessen their economic burden. Such parents fail to foresee their daughters’ future anywhere else except sending them to their husband’s home.
Poverty is significantly associated with Dowry – a bridal gift for the bride by her parents. The dowry is a socio-economic evil burdening the families of the daughters with each passing day. Considering the increasing expense of dowry by each passing day, parents try to marry their girls earlier. A girl marries with a bit of skill and lower self-confidence and finds herself in limited economic opportunities to grow. What do they do? They start working in the informal sector under negligible earnings. These include seasonal work (cotton picking, sowing, etc.), home-based work (stitching, embroidery, etc.), and domestic work. The low-paid jobs keep them and their family poor. The struggle to get out of poverty ended up in another vicious cycle of poverty and more family members adding to the family.
Living in poverty restraint girls from getting an education due to limited economic resources. The correlation between child marriage and literacy or a lower level of education, particularly for girls, is well-noticed. In the rural areas, parents are often reluctant to invest in their daughter’s education as they believe that they have to leave their parental home after marriage, so investing in them is of no use. The probability of education or continuing education after marriage for girls is also grim for various reasons, including limited mobility, family, and childbearing, and performing domestic chores.
Illiteracy also gives birth to inhumane cultural practices in traditional societies. The likelihood of acceptability of such practices is high in patriarchal societies. In Pakistani culture, several discriminatory cultural practices were nurtured. “Valwaar” (Money Against Match) is one of those practices being practiced in certain jurisdictions and tribes of the country. It refers to a monetary deal between the groom and the parents of the bride. The groom pays money (Valwaar) to the bride’s parents to consent to marry their daughter. This money is taken as a reward to burden their economic difficulties; therefore, parents tend to give their daughters in marriage as soon as they get a better offer.
In contrast, the notion of honor “Izzat” is another significant discourse regarding child marriages. Parents are often pressured to marry their daughter at an early age to avoid the risk of dishonor associated with sex without marriage. Parents to restrain from this risk of dishonor find it convenient to marry their daughters early. Watta Satta (exchange marriages) often officiated with young brides. Family elders or tribal heads arrange such marriages. Brides have never been consulted, instead consulting them is regarded as “shameful.” Such practices increase the girls’ vulnerabilities and imbalance the power in the family towards males. Maintain gender-based control in the family; the perception is that younger girls can easily be tamed the way males want.
Lamenting that there is no significant realization that marrying at a young age could affect girls’ cognitive growth, development skills, and physical health, further heading to the likelihood of violence, abuse, divorce, or abandonment. In line with the concluding observations on Pakistan’s 5th Periodic Report, made by The UN Committee on CRC, over-pervasive patriarchal attitudes and deep-rooted traditional and cultural stereotypes towards child marriage should be addressed with the appropriate course of action. The concern of the UN Committee reiterates that making laws and policies is not enough unless the social factors associated with social evil can be addressed efficiently.