Can Pakistan End Child Marriage?

KARACHI – The Pakistani Senate has passed a bill to end child marriage, making marriage illegal for girls under the age of 18 to marry. That sounds like good news in a country where it is estimated that 21% of girls under 18 are married, often being forced to do so as early as age 12.

The Pakistani Senate has passed a bill to make marriage illegal for girls under the age of 18 to marry where 21% of girls under 18 are married.

Human Rights Watch observer, Saroop Ijaz, noted that “This is an important first step. The situation in terms of child marriage, particularly for girls, is very, very grave.”

Interestingly, a 1929 Child Marriage Restraint Act already prohibits marriage for girls under the age of 16. That law is rarely enforced in an environment where the practice is “deeply rooted in tradition.” According to UNICEF, Pakistan has the sixth highest number of child brides in the world, just shy of two million.

“Deeply rooted in tradition” is a euphemism created by the United Nations to describe the practice ingrained in Muslim and tribal practices especially prevalent in poverty-stricken rural towns and villages.

Child marriage is a significant contributor to mothers dying in childbirth at a national rate of one every 20 minutes. That’s three every hour, 72 every day, 360 every week, 1,560 every month, and 18,720 every year.

Senator Sherry Rehman, the author of the bill, stated the obvious when she observed that “Those are egregious statistics for a South Asian country with pretensions to moderate values.”

Unfortunately, the National Assembly, the lower house of Pakistan’s Parliament, tabled the bill when it was presented to them just a day later. The Federal Minister for Parliamentary Affairs noted that, because the Council for Islamic Ideology had opposed a similar bill in the past, he could not support this one.

Pakistan is already in violation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. That agreement, ratified by Pakistan 29 years ago, “sets a minimum age of marriage at 18.” Furthermore, the country is a party to the South Asian Initiative to End Violence Against Children that includes a mandate to end child marriage.

The root of the problem is that morality cannot be legislated in Pakistan or anywhere else. Laws may be enacted, but they cannot be enforced unless there is a united will to do so. Even if the National Assembly eventually passes the bill currently before them, there is little evidence that there is a will to enforce a ban on child marriage at the national, provincial, or local level.

We must face the reality that human injustices will not be eliminated until Jesus Christ returns to rule His kingdom on earth. Christians must remain focused on ministering to those in despair that is often beyond our ability to comprehend.


Read more about the impact of child marriage in these previous Missions Box stories: