The National Assembly of Pakistan is still, at the time of this column’s publication, debating whether to pass a bill making the minimum legal age for marriage in Pakistan eighteen years. One would have imagined that it wouldn’t have taken seventy-two years for a country to realize that minors have no business getting married to anyone, but let’s just say better late than never. Sindh already has these laws in place, to their credit, and their police is active in catching people breaking the law. One of the primary reasons why legislation surrounding the marriage on children has not received the attention it deserves is religious. There seems to be confusion about the sharia suggestion that young people be allowed to marry as a way of healthily channelling their sexual energy and keeping society ‘pure’. The amount of people who wholeheartedly interpret this idea meaning that ten year old girls should be married off immediately is astounding. Perhaps one shouldn’t be surprised that religion is once more being conveniently and wilfully manipulated to control women—in this case, mere girls—because whenever the conversation about the marriage of young people comes up, it is almost always focused around menarche. A girl hitting puberty is the primary marker for marriageability to these people. Your body is ready for children; ergo you should be thrown into a position to have them! Nobody registers boys’ puberty because most of the time when we speak of children being married; it is a nine year old girl who has been wedded to a thirty-two year old man.

There is no simple or alternative way to put it: this is the extreme of dehumanization. It is mind-boggling how anyone can justify continuing practices more than a thousand years old in a culture that is nothing like the original. In this day and age, in a world where nine and ten year old boys and girls are not considered adults by any stretch of the imagination—in this world, arguing for child marriage is nothing but an extension of paedophilia. Sure, Babur the Great was ruler of Ferghana at eleven, but Babur from next door, at eleven, is still playing cricket on the street and running after the ice cream man for an ice lolly. It is also no accident that in a culture and society that is obsessed with controlling women, marriage is still the greatest weapon used to do it. Hundreds of parents are perfectly willing to let their preteen and teenage daughters be married to men much older than them. You only have to scratch the surface to find a grandmother, married at twelve; your waxing wo    man, married at fourteen; your phuppi, married at seventeen. Most of these women are mothers within a year or two of these marriages, because children are the second stage of a woman’s complete binding, and is the reason why most people are hysterical about a new bride conceiving immediately after marriage—they are terrified of her changing her mind about marriage. If we continue to use the ‘keep society pure’ logic, then are we implying that a twelve year old has such strong sexual urges that they need to be married to keep society on track? And why do these marriages then not happen between similarly situated young people, to maximize social management, but instead are contracted between very young people and very old ones?

There isn’t a satisfactory answer because there is none. One sees the occasional sullen and terrified teenage boy married to a twenty-year old woman (another example of our hysteria to marry our girls, and horribly unfair to both parties), but the power differential between a couple like that is still incredibly small compared to a thirteen year old girl, married to a forty year old man. Statistically, underage girls bear children at huge medical risks; according to the WHO, complications from pregnancy and childbirth are the leading cause of death in girls between 15-19 years of age. Adolescent mothers—age ten to nineteen—face higher risks of eclampsia, postpartum infections and endometriosis. In other words, girls having children at ages they are not physically ready for means they will most likely die. If they don’t die, their bodies are so injured and scarred that having more children will either be incredibly difficult, or kill them the next time. One can factor in the incidences of young women and adolescent brides who are rushed to hospitals on their wedding nights because of nightmarish tearing, fissures and bleeding as a result of their conjugal ‘duties’ being forced upon them by the hulking beasts they are yoked by marriage to.

Are you flinching? Is this a bit much? It is, and to any sane person this should be cause for horror and outrage. It shouldn’t be a matter for any political party, much less the majority one, to abstain voting upon. It shouldn’t be a question to pose to the CII, who have in turn cautiously suggested that child marriage might not be advisable. Child marriage should be the kind of issue that assemblies should unanimously, resoundingly vote yes for; laws that protect children should rocket through legislation. It is the most disgusting, disappointing and reprehensible evasion of all ethical and moral duty that the Child Marriage Bill is still under discussion in a country where only days ago the Sindh police arrested a full-grown, much older man who had married a nine year old. That child was no young person with urges that needed controlling, she was sold into what was essentially sex slavery by her parents, using the same justifications being used by the opponents of the Child Marriage Bill. The only reason she might have a fighting chance at having a better life is because Sindh has laws that won’t let children be anyone’s wife or husband. That crying little girl, in a shelter now because even home is dangerous, is all our daughters. Deliberately derailing the conversation about child marriage is a monstrous imperilment to them all.

The writer is a feminist based in Lahore.m.malikhussain

Child marriage should be the kind of issue that assemblies should unanimously, resoundingly vote yes for; laws that protect children should rocket through legislation.