The government needs to counter the age-old tradition of forced marriages in Pakistan

In Pakistan, nearly half of all marriages involve girls younger than 18, and 70 per cent of Pakistani girls are married before their 16th birthday

On September 7, 2015, three Baloch girls, 14-year-old Surat, 10-year-old  Nagina,  and  7-year-old Sabina, were abducted from near their neighbourhood, Bhangoria Goth in Azizabad Karachi and were brought to Shikarpur. The girls were handed over to an influential landlord. Two of them, Surat and Nagina, were forcibly married off to Saleem Jatoi and Imam Bux Jatoi respectively. On October 19, 2015, the kidnapped girls were recovered from Sukkur. Regrettably, Surat, Nagina, and Sabina are not the only girls who have been abducted and forcibly married. There has been a plethora of such incidents in Pakistan, the lion’s share of which are not reported owing to various factors. 

The role of civil society in ensuring the protection of constitutional rights of citizens of Pakistan is very important. The Pakistani civil society did play a vital role in the recovery of these girls. However, the government was not ready to take action against the culprits abetted by the big hands. Civil society activists staged country wide protests which resulted in the government finally taking an action.

No doubt, the heinous and un-Islamic tradition of forced marriages exists in many parts of the world. But lamentably, it is ubiquitous in the country on a large scale. Although Islam does not allow parents to take away the rights of children in selecting their spouse and to impose their decisions on them, yet Pakistan, the ‘Islamic state’, takes the top rank in the issue of forced marriages, because it is widespread in our society. Acting upon established outdated social norms and rituals in Pakistani society, people marry their children in the same breed or the same community. On the contrary, young children, growing up in a free society, are reluctant to follow these social norms and rituals because they believe in liberty of selecting their own life-partner themselves. Thus pandemonium is created in family and children, especially girls, are made the victim of forced marriages. Nearly 50 percent of all the globally reported forced marriages are reported from Pakistan. 

According to UNICEF’s estimates presented at Girls Summit 2014 in England, globally around one in three young women currently aged 20 to 24, approximately some 70 million, were married before the age of 18. Of those, some 23 million entered into marriage or union before the age of 15. In Pakistan, nearly half of all marriages involve girls younger than 18, and 70 per cent of Pakistani girls are married before their 16th birthday.

Child marriage is sheer violation of human rights. It deprives millions of girls worldwide of their childhood, education and health. 

Human rights expert and child rights consultant, Iqbal Ahmed Detho expressing his views about forced marriages, said that in Pakistan, human trafficking is a common practice: “The middle class, in search of employment, migrate from rural areas to urban areas. The agents of human trafficking organizations use various tactics and methods to trap females, especially young girls, of these migrant families by offering jobs in industries and houses. Consequently, the agents sell out the girls in different parts of the country and abroad especially for the purpose of prostitution and forced marriages. The forced marriages can be both: child marriages and adult marriages.”

Further he said according to the Prevention of Anti Women Practices (Criminal Law amendment) Act 2011, Chapter XXA Offences against Women, under section 498​B. (Prohibition of forced marriage): “Whoever coerces or in any manner whatsoever compels a woman to enter into marriage shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term, which may extend to ten years or for a term which shall not be less than three years and shall also be liable to fine of five hundred thousand rupees.”

“In spite of this, the practice is taking place in full swing in Sindh and other provinces of Pakistan. To control forced marriages, it is a pre-requisite to empower women politically, socially and economically,” he said. 

To stop the practice of the forced marriages in society and to protect lives and futures of thousands of girls, the responsibility should be placed on shoulders of the government to galvanize civil society, human rights activists, and educated men, women, girls and boys across the country. There is need to harness the skills, talent and productivity of all the people. Education is one of the most effective ways to prevent and end forced marriages. It must be necessitated to promote and protect women and girls’ right to education.

Shaikh Abdul Rasheed is a social activist and researcher. Follow him on Twitter