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Rising cases of child marriage a concern in Pakistan

Rising poverty due to the pandemic has experts worrying about increase in young girls being married off

Pakistan has the sixth-highest number of child brides in the world, according to UNICEF. (dailytimes.com.pk)

In 2020, 119 cases of child marriages were reported in Pakistan, of which 95 per cent were of girls and five per cent were of boys. This was the data highlighted in the recent report of Islamabad-based NGO Sahil, which works on child protection including child sexual abuse.

With rising poverty arising due to the economic impact pandemic has brought about in the country, experts are now concerned that in near future, the situation might aggravate in the country. The government has announced a complete lockdown in 20 cities of Punjab.

According to UNICEF, 21 per cent girls get married before the age of 18 in Pakistan, of which three per cent are married off before they turn 15. A report by the international agency states "the country has the sixth-highest number of child brides in the world (1,909,000). The median age of marriage is the lowest in rural areas and in Gilgit-Baltistan".

The country has been plagued with the chronic issue of child marriage. According to a recent report, the poverty rate in Pakistan has reached an alarming 31.3 per cent. One of the major concerns of the people is the marriage of their children, mainly because the underprivileged families seldom send their children to schools, a new report states. The boys start working from a very young age, while girls are trained for household work and married quickly in these poor families.

Besides poverty, child marriages in Pakistan are culture, tribal traditions and exchange marriage. For instance, in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Gilgit Baltistan especially, the issue has deep roots of 'culture', 'norm' and 'tradition'. "In newly merged tribal districts and Malakund district, people take 500,000 to 2,000,000 from men wanting to marry underage girls. Most of these men are wealthy and already married," said Qaiser Khan, a political activist from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

Kishwar Enam, a pediatrician, said that early marriage affects the psychological well-being and intellectual, personal and social growth of the child. "Robbed of happy childhood experiences, given an incomplete education that mars career prospects later, overburdened with responsibilities and subjected to domestic violence, there is an increased risk of depression and post-traumatic stress disorder in such children," Enam added.

Meanwhile, activists have urged the government to take major steps to tackle the issue, and enforce harsh punishments to deter people from marrying children.

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