Underage Marriage

Months after Dua Zehra’s legal battle regarding the validity of her marriage began, the medical board finally determined her age to be between 15 to 16 years. Now confirmed to be a minor, this development would incriminate her 21-year-old husband. As we proceed, the judiciary must not overlook the importance of setting a precedent against child marriages through this case and must punish all those involved. At the same time, the flawed demographic information system requires serious reconsideration by state authorities.

While major laws criminalising child marriage have been passed, ineffective regulation allows for this trend to thrive discreetly. Very seldom have cases come forward and when they do, relevant bodies often take months to provide vital and conclusive evidence.

In Dua’s case, it took the medical board months to conduct a series of X-rays, conduct radiological examination and complete the dentition process—each of which has proven that she is much younger than she claims. These are routine processes that should not have taken so much time so why were two months wasted?

Furthermore, it seems as though the data stored and provided by NADRA cannot be relied upon either because, judging from this case, it can be disputed rather easily. Surely there must be a system of authentication of documents and certain strict rules that provide some kind of structure and discipline in the country’s largest database authority.

This high degree of incompetence delays and extends trials unnecessarily. Dua’s case is of utmost importance because it will set a precedent on which future victims of child and forced marriages will be catered to by the law. Charges of kidnapping, child marriage and sexual offences can be levied onto Zaheer—Dua’s husband—and the court could finally order Dua to be recovered and sent back to her home immediately, as should be the case.

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