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Early & Forced Marriages

Being able to choose whether to marry and who to marry is a basic human right. Most people in Pakistan take this freedom of choice for granted, but unfortunately not everybody has such freedom. Even in modern-day Pakistan, young people are pressured or forced to marry, despite the fact that this is prohibited.

In Pakistan, most traditional marriages are arranged by the families and the ability for a boy or a girl to openly get to know and choose their partner seldom occurs. In the process of such marriages being arranged by family members, safeguards in the law are often overlooked and minimum age of marriage and need for mutual consent are not guaranteed, resulting in a forced marriage.

In 1990, Pakistan ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Child, which prohibits child marriages. In addition, under the Muslim Family Law Ordinance, a girl must have attained the age of 16 and a boy must have attained the age of 18, and both need to consent before the marriage can take place. Historically, however, the State has done very little to ensure that marriages are consensual and in many instances the age of a girl will be changed on her marriage certificate in order to avoid questions over her being underage.

The ability of individuals to bypass the law without any fear of repercussions has also perpetuated customary practices of selling girls into “marriage” in exchange for money, settling disputes with the exchange of girls known as vani or swara and the use of girl as compensation for crimes. While the formal laws in Pakistan do not condone these practices, the courts do little to address them, allowing informal justice systems to implement a law of their own. Another custom in Pakistan, called vani, involves village elders solving family disputes or settling unpaid debts by marrying off girls. The average marriage age of swara girls is between 5 and 9. Similarly, the custom of watta satta has been cited as a cause of child marriages in Pakistan. In 2011, the Pakistani legislature passed two landmark pro-woman bills aimed at protecting women from harmful traditional customs, including so-called marriage with the holy Quran and forced wedlock, and seeking severe punishments for the violators.

It is therefore noteworthy to mention that, according to 2013 reports published by UNICEF, over 50 percent of all marriages in Pakistan involve girls who are less than the age of competency. Another report by UNICEF claims that 70 percent of girls in Pakistan are married off before the age of 16.  The exact number of child marriages in Pakistan below the age of 13 is unknown but they are rising, according to the United Nations. Rate of marriage of 8 to 13-year-old girls exceeds 50 % in the northwest regions of Pakistan. According to the Population Council, 35 percent of all females in Pakistan become mothers before they reach the age of 18 and 67 percent have experienced pregnancy out of which 69 percent have given birth before they reach the age of 19. Less than four percent of married girls below the age of 19 had some say in choosing her spouse; over 80 percent were married to a near or distant relative.
Keeping in view this dangerous issues increasing speedily in Pakistan, DEEP is running successfully awareness raising campaigns by involving major activist of the community, lawyers, lady doctors etc. DEEP also working with the most neglected community of Pakistan that are Gypsy Peoples. DEEP conducts seminars and different community sessions to say “No to child marriage”.

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