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Child marriage rates
UNICEF 2017 % Married by 15
UNICEF 2017 % Married by 18
* Child marriage prevalence is the percentage of women 20-24 years old who were married or in union before they were 18 years old (UNICEF State of the World’s Children, 2017)
What's the child marriage rate? How big of an issue is child marriage?
5% of boys in Pakistan are married before the age of 18.
Pakistan has the sixth highest absolute number of women married or in a union before the age of 18 in the world – 1,821,000.
Child marriage is reportedly more prevalent in Pakistan’s rural areas.
A 2017 World Bank/ICRW study estimated that ending child marriage in Pakistan could see a 13% rise in earnings and productivity for Pakistani women who married early.
Are there country-specific drivers of child marriage in this country?
Child marriage is driven by gender inequality and the belief that girls are somehow inferior to boys.
In Pakistan, child marriage is exacerbated by:
- Gender norms: Deeply entrenched patriarchal norms continue to drive child marriage. For example, girls are raised to show an attitude of care and service towards men. There is the belief that the younger the girl, the easier it is to condition her to obey and serve her husband and in-laws. Girls who marry late are often shamed for “deviating” from tradition.
- Family practices: Marriage is frequently arranged by the parents, for both boys and girls. In addition, marriages among families or tribes (addo baddo) are still common in Pakistan. A third of married 15-19 year old girls are married to a first cousin on their father’s side.
- Traditional harmful practices: In Pakistan, there are some country-specific practices that condone child marriage. Swara, where girls are married off to resolve disputes or debt, continues in rural communities and is often sanctioned by a council of elders. Badal or watta satta (an agreement between two families to exchange female family members through marriage, where girls are seen as a source of cheap labour) and pait likkhi (marrying girls off before they are born or very young) also still occur. A 2018 study revealed that some parents marry off their daughters at a young age to save the dowry amount because with the age of the girl, the price of dowry increases.
- Religion: Some Pakistani Muslims believe their religion requires them to marry off their daughters once they reach puberty. This also relates to a desire to protect a girl’s izzat (honour), and the high premium attached to the chastity of young unmarried girls.
- Poverty: Girls are frequently considered a financial burden for families as they are confined in their homes and are not financial contributors. Poverty exacerbates child marriage as a way for families to alleviate economic pressure. There are recent reports of impoverished Christian families being targeted by traffickers seeking for child girls for Chinese men.
- Level of education: Dropping out of school early is both a cause and consequence of child marriage. A 2017 study shows that each year of additional secondary education reduces the risk of child marriage by 3.4% in Pakistan.
Humanitarian settings can encompass a wide range of situations before, during, and after natural disasters, conflicts, and epidemics. They exacerbate poverty, insecurity, and lack of access to services such as education. These factors can drive child marriage and, often in times of crisis, families see child marriage as a way to cope with greater economic hardship and to protect girls from increased violence. In Pakistan, military and insurgent operations have caused human suffering and large-scale internal displacements. This situation is compounded by the presence of an estimated three million Afghans. Pakistan also experiences recurring natural disasters, and suffers from food shortages and chronic malnutrition rates.
- Afghan diaspora: While there is limited data, child marriage reportedly persists among Afghan migrant and refugee communities in Pakistan.
What has this country committed to?
Pakistan has committed to eliminate child, early and forced marriage by 2030 in line with target 5.3 of the Sustainable Development Goals. During its Voluntary National Review at the 2019 High Level Political Forum, the government mentioned that the federal and provincial governments have taken a strong stand by introducing multiple initiatives to address gender parity including the Child Marriage Act which establishes a minimum age for marriage to curb the practice of early or child marriages.
Pakistan ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1990, which sets a minimum age of marriage of 18. In 2016, the Child Rights Committee expressed concerns about the disparities between the legal age for marriage for boys and girls and reiterated the recommendation to enforce legislation to prohibit child marriage.
Pakistan ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in 1996, which obligates states to ensure free and full consent to marriage. However, it noted that this is subject to the provisions of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.
During its 2013 review, the CEDAW Committee raised concerns about the persistence of child marriages and the minimum age of marriage for girls in Pakistan. It also expressed concern over the high number of Pakistani girls belonging to religious minorities who are forced to convert and marry. In 2019, the Committee requested further information on the progress made to end child marriage in Pakistan.
During its 2018 Universal Periodic Review, Pakistan agreed to examine recommendations to make the minimum age of marriage for women and men 18.
Pakistan is a member of the South Asian Initiative to End Violence Against Children (SAIEVAC), which adopted a regional action plan to end child marriage from 2015-2018.
Representatives of the South Asia Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), including Pakistan, asserted the Kathmandu Call to Action to End Child Marriage in Asia in 2014. As part of its commitment, Pakistan will ensure access to legal remedies for child brides and establish a uniform minimum legal age of marriage of 18.
In 2019, at the Nairobi Summit on ICPD25, the Government of Pakistan committed to legislate and enforce the Early Child Marriage Restraint Acts at federal and provincial levels.
Pakistan is a developing partner country of the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) and one of 11 countries working to create child marriage-free communities by 2020 as part of the Her Choice Alliance.
What is the government doing to address this at the national level?
The National Commission on the Status of Women (NCSW) and other National Human Rights Institutions have participated in regional meetings and consultations on child marriage organised by the SAIEVAC. As reported by Pakistan to the CEDAW Committee in 2019, the NCSW have also organised a National Consultation on Child Marriage in collaboration with the National Commission For Human Rights (NCHR), Child Rights Movement, SAIEVAC, National Action Coordination Group Pakistan and the Ministry of Human Rights.
Several alliances have been active in advocating for legal reform at the provincial and federal level. In Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, there is a working group on child marriage and the Women Parliamentary Caucus has also formed a parliamentary committee for legislation to end child marriages.
Pakistan’s 2017-2025 National Education Policy focuses on eliminating gender disparity in education and encouraging families to send girls to school.
What is the minimum legal framework around marriage?
Under the Child Marriage Restraint Act 1929 the minimum legal age of marriage is 16 years for girls and 18 years for boys.
Following the decentralisation of many powers to the provinces and territories in 2010, child marriage is a provincial subject. Sindh is the only Pakistani province where the minimum age of marriage for girls and boys is 18, as set by the Sindh Child Marriage Restraint Act, adopted in 2014 by the Sindh Assembly unanimously. This Act also makes child marriage a punishable offence.
Other provinces have proposed similar law amendments recently. The Punjab Government has proposed a bill for amendment of the age of child marriage from 16 to 18 years (previously, a bill introducing harsher penalties for marriage under the age of 16 was adopted). The Government of Balochistan has also prepared and presented the Bill of Early Child Marriage Prohibition, currently under discussion, according to which a person below the age of 18 shall be considered a child.
The draft Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Child Marriages Restraint Bill also raises age of marriage to 18 years for girls. The bill has received the consent of all departments and civil society actors, has been vetted by the law department and awaits its approval from the cabinet after which it will be presented in the assembly for approval.
In 2019, a Child Marriage Restraint (Amendment) Bill, 2018, was passed in the Pakistani Senate to increase the minimum age of marriage for girls to 18 years. Pakistan religious political parties opposed the bill, claiming it to be against Islam, and recommended that the bill be sent to the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) before being discussed in the Senate.
The Council of Islamic Ideology which gives Islamic legal advice to the Pakistani Government, had declared that Pakistani laws prohibiting child marriage are un-Islamic. The rulings were widely criticised. In May 2019 a Council spokesperson reportedly said that the Council in its 212th meeting had arrived at the conclusion that “legislation against child marriage and setting an age limit will lead to many complications” and that a “better way” to tackle child marriage would be to start a public awareness campaign instead of passing legislation.
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* Child marriage prevalence is the percentage of women 20-24 years old who were married or in union before they were 18 years old (UNICEF State of the World’s Children, 2017)
Members In Pakistan
- Acid Survivors Foundation (ASF)
- Action Aid
- Advocacy, Research, Training and Services (ARTS) Foundation
- Al-Mehran Rural Development organisation (AMRDO)
- Association for Behavior and Knowledge Transformation (ABKT)
- Association for Water, Applied Education & Renewable Energy (AWARE)
- Aware Girls
- AWAZ Foundation Pakistan Centre for Development Studies
- Azat Foundation
- Baanhn Beli
- Blue Veins
- Center for Communication Programs Pakistan
- Chanan Development Association (CDA)
- Children and Women Trust
- Civil Society Support Program (CSSP)
- Community Development Foundation (CDF)
- Community Initiatives for Development in Pakistan (CIDP)
- Community Research and Development Organization (CRDO)
- Da Hawwa Lur
- Dawn Development Organization
- Democratic Commission for Human Development (DCHD)
- Development & Economic Empowerment of People (DEEP) Foundation
- Development Institutions’ Network (DIN)
- Development of Institution and Youth Alliance (DIYA)
- Direct Focus Community Aid (DFCA)
- Fast Rural Development Program (FRDP)
- Formation, Awareness & Community Empowerment Society (FACES Pakistan)
- Forum for Dignity Initiatives (FDI)
- Foundation for Awareness and Civic Engagement (FACE)
- Fundamental Human Rights & Rural Development Association (FHRRDA)
- Gender and Empowerment Organization (GEO)
- Girls Assembly
- Girls Got Voice (GGV)
- Girls United for Human Rights (GUHR)
- Group Development Pakistan (GD Pakistan)
- Hamdam Development Organization (HDO)
- Hand in Hand with Educated and Labour People (HHELP)
- HARD Balochistan
- Hari Welfare Association
- Holding Hands Organization
- Human Oriented Productive Environment (HOPE)
- Hwa Foundation
- Idara Baraye Taleem-o-Taraqi (IBT)
- Insan Dost Social Organization (IDSO)
- Integrated Rural Awareness & Development Organization (IRADO)
- Jaag Welfare Movement
- Kafka Welfare Organization
- Kehkashan Development Organization
- Laureate Foundation
- Literate Masses
- Marvi Rural Development Organization (MRDO)
- Nari Foundation
- National Integrated Development Association (NIDA-Pakistan)
- Organisation for Public Interest (OPI)
- Organization for Community Development (OCD)
- Organization for Development and Peace
- Pakistan Alliance for Girls Education (PAGE)
- Pakistan Rural Workers Social Welfare Organisation (PRWSWO)
- Parveen Nadeem Welfare Organization (PNWO)
- Peace Foundation
- Petarian Human Rights Organization (PHRO)
- Population, Environment and Development Centre
- Psycho-Social Research Advocacy and Rule of Law (PAROL)
- Reformists’ Social Welfare and Development Organisation (RSWDO)
- Roshni Development Foundation (RDF)
- Roshni Welfare Organization (RWO)
- Rural Development Association
- Rural Development Foundation
- Rural Empowerment and Community Help (REACH)
- Saher Arts for Peace & Sustainable Development
- Sami Foundation (SF)
- Sangtani Women Rural Development Organization (SWRDO)
- Sanjh Preet Organization
- Save the Children
- Shah Sachal Sami Foundation (SSSF)
- Sindh Achievement Awareness Development Organization (SAADO)
- Sindh Agricultural and Forestry Workers Coordinating Organization (SAFWCO)
- Sindh Community Foundation (SCF)
- Sindh Development Society (SDS)
- Sister’s Council (khwendo jirga)
- Social Organization for Justice and Human Rights Observation
- Society for Appraisal and Women Empowerment in Rural Areas (SAWERA)
- Society for Democracy and Human Development (SDHD)
- Society for Development and Research (SDAR)
- Society for Mobilization, Advocacy and Justice (SMAAJ)
- Society for Rights and Development
- Society for Safe Environment and Welfare of Agrarians in Pakistan (SSEWA-Pak)
- Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child (SPARC)
- Sujag Sansar Organization
- Sukaar Welfare Organization
- Sustainable Transformation for Rural Initiatives and Voluntary Efforts (STRIVE)
- The Awakening
- Unique Development Organization
- Villagers Development Organization (VDO)
- VSO International
- Youth Association for Development (YAD)