Child marriage remains pervasive in developing countries, where one-third of girls are married before the age of 18. That’s 39,000 girls each day, with 1 in 9 marrying before age 15.  Among countries with the highest prevalence of child marriage, girls with three years of schooling or less are up to six times more likely to marry young than girls with secondary education. The causality runs both ways: child marriage reduces educational attainment, and, conversely, girls with less access to quality education are more likely to marry early.

Child marriage often constitutes a violation of the rights of the girls who are encouraged or even forced to marry early. This practice is driven by poverty, cultural and social norms, and pervasive discrimination against girls. Early marriage forces girls into adulthood and, frequently, motherhood before they are emotionally or physically mature. It profoundly affects a girl’s life, not only by substantially lowering her education prospects, but also by causing health complications and harming psychological well-being.

Causes of child marriages in Balochistan

In Balochistan, there are various causes of early or child marriages. The most important among those causes are: tribal and feudal setup, extremely weak legislation, lack of implementation of existing laws, treatment of children as commodities/slaves, tribal and feudal structure of society, lack of awareness in public about the harmful effects of child marriages, extreme poverty, internal trafficking, and lack of will on part of the government. Another important cause of child marriage is ineffective and non-responsive birth registration system. The birth registration for children, especially girls, is never prioritized, which gives room for manipulation of the age of the child/girls at the time of marriage. In addition, there are no central, independent and strong bodies that advocate child rights, and that could monitor child rights violations including the issue of child marriages.

Education and child marriages

The practice of child marriage remains highly prevalent and is decreasing only slowly, not only in terms of the incidence of child marriage, but also in terms of measures such as the child marriage gap, which take into account how young girls are when they marry. Child marriages have huge negative effects on education attainment.  In Balochistan, child marriages are badly affecting education sector in terms of early rural marriages (22 percent of males and 63 percent of females are married before 20), and have the highest percentage of urban early marriages, with 9 percent males and 56 percent females marrying before 20.  In Balochistan, parents make their children marry at an early age – before 18 years – whether they are male or female. Furthermore, a few days earlier, in a small village near Turbat known as Herronk, a 15 year old child committed suicide after his marriage. The boy didn’t willingly marry, but was extremely forced by his family. Hence, the child lost his precious life. Therefore, it is time to educate all parents to avoid marrying their children at an early age.

What can be done to curb this practice?

In Sindh & Punjab, laws have been adopted to prevent marriage below 18 years of age, but these laws are often not well-enforced. In Balochistan and KPK, on the other hand, the Anti-Child Marriages laws are lying pending. Laws are needed, but laws alone are not enough – Punjab and Sindh are evident examples of that. Interventions to reduce the cost of schooling and improve the quality of education are also required. Apart from cultural and religious factors, the high cost of schooling, poor quality of secondary education, and limited employment prospects for girls are among the factors that lead to child marriage.

Cash transfers may make schooling more affordable for girls and thereby reduce child marriage indirectly through their effect on schooling. Other education interventions—such as building secondary schools to reduce traveling distance for students, or providing public transportation to children, and improving the quality of education—may also have indirectly beneficial effects on the status of child marriage.

But again, recognizing that traditions and culture play an important role in the persistence of the practice, and enabling traditional and religious leaders to be part of the discussion are also crucial. Overall, eliminating child marriage truly requires multi-sectoral policies that go beyond education, alone. Nevertheless, an improvement in the quality of education is a good launchpad for this movement.