Pakistan (MNN) — Pakistan is in the process of raising the minimum marriage age to 18 in efforts to prevent child brides. The bill supporting the legal change has passed Pakistan’s Senate. But FMI’s Bruce Allen expects the bill will face pushback when it reaches the National Assembly.
Child Brides in Pakistan
Currently, a girl can marry at 16-years-old. Boys can marry at 18-years-old. However, child marriage rates for girls are higher than for boys in Pakistan. Some parents marry their daughters as soon as they have their first menstrual cycle.
“According to the U.N., one-third* of the girls in Pakistan are given in marriage before they turn 18**. Right now, that’s nearly two million*** girls. It’s a pattern that’s damaging, and deadly, and it has deep ramifications for Pakistani society,” Allen explains.
Young girls become child brides for a variety of reasons. For one, Allen says Islam allows it. For those trying to emulate the prophet Muhammad, child brides are in the cards.
Another reason child brides are common is because of poverty. It is easier for parents struggling to make ends meet to marry off their child, even if it means one less mouth to feed. However, this also means some parents intentionally or unintentionally sell their young daughters into human trafficking.
“There’s also a tradition, especially in rural villages, where there’s a type of swap between families when they’re arranging marriages. Let’s say a family with a son wants that son to get married to a daughter in a second family. Well, that second family may have a son, and they say we’ll go ahead with this first marriage, but only if you give your daughter to our son,” Allen says.
“[Then] there’s a son and daughter in each family, and they’re both getting married at the same time, or the arrangement is made at the same time. The second daughter in that situation could be as young as 13 or 14.”
By the age of 14, only one in eight girls is still in an education system. The reasons: child marriages, shortage of secondary schools, sexual harassment and discrimination, and even abusive teachers.
The Danger for Local Christians
Furthermore, Pakistan is ranked as the 5th most dangerous country**** to live as a Christian. While most Christian parents do not marry their daughters off as child brides, Christian girls are kidnapping targets for child marriages and human trafficking.
Last August, Azma, a 15-year-old Christian girl who attended an FMI supported church, was kidnapped from her home. Her kidnapper forced her to convert to Islam and marry him.
“She was a vibrant member of one of our church planters congregations, involved in the youth group. And last summer she was kidnapped by Muslim radicals,” Allen recalls.
Azma’s family remains targets for radical Muslims. Reports state three Muslim men are stalking the family’s home. It appears they plan to attack the remaining daughters once they are alone. Allen says this is one of the factors for Pakistan’s high rating on the World Watch List.
Will the Practice end?
Allen says the tradition of child brides is culturally hard to break. If the National Assembly passes the bill implementing a higher marriage age minimum at a provincial level, it may not decrease the number of child marriages taking place.
“Because of these arranged marriages between families, it still just happens. Forged documents are given at the mosque. In many situations, especially in the rural villages, there are no birth certificates, so there is no way to verify someone’s age,” Allen says.
Pray Pakistan will raise the minimum marriage age for girls. Pray Pakistan will value children and educate both boys and girls to become productive members of their society. Ask God to protect Christian families and their daughters from targeted attacks. Pray God’s Word would penetrate Pakistani culture, transform hearts, and help end child marriages.
Pray for the encouragement and steadfastness of Christians facing persecution, like kidnappings for child brides. Finally, pray for Azma. Pray for her strength and continued heart for Christ. Pray for her family’s perseverance and protection.
To learn more about child marriages, click here.
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*This statistic is from United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) in Pakistan. It is based on the Demographic and Health Survey 2012-13. Click here for more.
**The United Nations’ March 2018 Child Marriage Database 2010 to 2017 statistics show 3 percent of children are under the age of 15-years-old when married. These statistics show 21 percent of children are under 18-years-old when married.
This resource can be found here.
***Girls Not Brides notes that UNICEF data shows Pakistan has the sixth highest number of child brides in the world numbering at 1,909,000.
****The Open Doors USA’s World Watch List is a ranking of the top 50 countries where it is most dangerous to live as a Christian. Find the World Watch List here.
Header photo by Hassan Wasim on Unsplash.