PAKISTAN: Custom of child marriages violates human rights law, mock UN conventions! 

11 year old Irum Naz was married with 61 year old man and she curses her parents day and night for putting their own daughter to misery

Farzana Ali Khan 


Throughout the world, marriage is regarded as a moment of celebration and a milestone in adult life. Sadly, as this article makes clear, the practice of early marriage gives no such cause for celebration.
While much of the impact remains hidden, it is absolutely clear that millions of under-age children – particularly girls – suffer negative consequences.

Early marriage takes many different forms and has various causes, one issue is paramount. Whether it happens to a girl or a boy, early marriage is a violation of Human Rights. The right to free and full consent to a marriage is recognized in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and in many subsequent human rights instruments – consent that cannot be ‘free and full’ when at least one partner is very immature. For both girls and boys, early marriage has profound physical, intellectual, psychological and emotional impacts, cutting off educational opportunity and chances of personal growth. For girls, in addition, it will almost certainly mean premature pregnancy and childbearing, and is likely to lead to a lifetime of domestic and sexual subservience over which they have no control.

Some are forced into marriage at a very early age. Others are simply too young to make an informed decision about their marriage partner or about the implications of marriage itself. They may have given what passes for ‘consent’ in the eyes of custom or the law, but in reality, consent to their binding union has been made by others on their behalf.

The U.N. Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), to which Pakistan acceded in 1996, mentions the right to protection from child marriage in Article 16. It states: “The betrothal and the marriage of a child shall have no legal effect, and all necessary action, including legislation, shall be taken…”

In addition, Pakistan’s Muslim Family Law states that, in a marriage, a girl must be at least 16 (age of puberty) and must give her consent. There is a Child Marriage Restraint Act, dating back to 1929, which has never been implemented and remains in the statute books.
The odd custom is more common in less developed area of Pakistan and the persistent occurrence of such practice is the outcome of lack of unawareness about its drastic consequences on part of the people (Parents) due to illiteracy and sometimes insensible approach of human nature.

Irum Naz from Charsadda of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is one such example, who was married when she was 11-year old only, has been suffering financial constraints that are leading to psychological problems and is now striving to cope with the predicaments of life.

Mother of three — a son and two daughters — the 21-year-old lady has been working for the last one-and-a-half years as a midwife at the Tehsil Headquarters Hospital, Tangi not only to feed her little children but also to get her paralysed husband treated.

Irum Naz, while divulging her ordeal, said that her parents had married her off at the age of 11 to 61-year-old Musa Khan for a small sum of money. She said she had been paying the price for her parents’ offence and is now leading a miserable life.

She said, “Unlike other girls who sit on a string cot in her bridal finery, awaiting the biggest moment of their life she had found herself confused and peered from under her red shawl to see what the fuss was all about.”

Things were not much different from the marriages that she would arrange for her dolls. She recalled that the henna patterns drawn on her tiny palms for the occasion and the red glass bangles on her arms looked pretty but the only difference was her unawareness about the disaster that the day was going to bring into her life.

Irum Naz, who had thought of a happy life, was made to struggle for survival of her family. “People say that there is a paradise under the parents’ feet, but for me there was hell,” she said, adding that she was among the people who instead of expecting blessings from their parents were today cursing them day and night for putting their own daughter to misery.

She said: ”My parents’ selfishness compelled me to come out from the confines of home and work in this male-dominated society rather than enjoying life as a typical Pakhtun housewife.”

Before some kind-hearted man got her job at the hospital, she worked as a domestic servant with different families for several years. The wretched but committed woman said: ”Though I am an illiterate mother, I wish my children to get educated and I want my daughters, in particular, not to remain ignorant. But the circumstances do not allow me to fulfil this lone desire of my life.”

”I don’t know what childhood is as I took over the responsibilities like a mature women at the age of 11 but I want my children to enjoy each and every moment of their youth,” Irum Naz said.

Irum Naz is not only going through the toughest time of her life by coping with problems but she is also among those displaced due to the floods in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa last year.

”On the one hand I am undergoing financial crisis while on the other my elderly and disabled husband has added to the despondency,” she said.

She said the doctors had suggested spinal chord surgery of her husband as early as possible but she was unable to arrange money for it. Satisfaction, happiness and rest are now rare commodities for her but she does not want to give up as Irum Naz said her children were her only hope now and she found consolation in their presence.

Despite the efforts of reformers in the early part of the 20th century, early marriage has received scant attention from the modern women’s rights and children’s rights movements. There has been virtual-There has been virtualy no attempt to examine the practice as a human rights violation in itself.

What is happening is nothing short of “child sexual abuse”. Many more girls from low-income families are sold into “marriage” in exchange for monetary gain. The younger the girl the higher the price for her would be paid.
Though laws exist to prevent such barbaric acts, the lack of enforcement has resulted in these acts occurring across the country.

The purpose of my article is to raise awareness of the situation and, where necessary, to stimulate action. Where there is insufficient data on the practice and repercussions of early marriage, researchers and officials in both government and civil society should be encouraged to initiate research in this area.

Document Type : Article
Document ID : AHRC-ART-062-2011
Countries : Pakistan,
Issues : Child rights,