5-Year-Old Pakistani Girl Forced into Marriage, Investigation Ordered

On November 1, a federal court in Pakistan instructed an officer representing Baluchistan Province to submit a report regarding the marriage of a five-year-old girl in his district, as well as an overview of the practice of child marriage and what steps are being taken to stop it.

The review stemmed from an incident in October when a five-year-old girl was forced into a marriage contract. The girl’s father secretly taped the exchange, insisting the girl was too young. Due to local and tribal pressure, including a past marriage between the families and the settlement of a murder dispute, the father felt he had no choice. Still, he did file an FIR with the police along with the video as evidence.

Local police have made arrests of two suspects who arranged the marriage. If convicted, they could serve a 6-month sentence. Officials are currently trying to find the cleric who officiated the religious ceremony. Reports say that the young girl has been recovered.

Federal Shariat Court Chief Justice Dr. Syed Muhammad Anwer and Justice Kadim Hussain M. Sheikh heard the case. They maintained the act was un-Islamic and against Pakistan’s Constitution Article 9, which secures life and liberty in accordance with the law. According to the country’s Child Marriage Restraint Act (1929) and Muslim Family Laws Ordinance (1961), the legal age for marriage is 18 for boys and 16 for girls.

Women's rights organization Shikat Gah says the country fails to prevent many child marriages because they simply aren’t registered. The group also says that registered marriages are often not checked for compliance with the law by inefficient registration officials. The group also blames “patriarchal institutional structures, poverty, limited access to education, and inadequate and conflicting laws related to the age of marriage.”

Pakistan has nearly 19 million child brides, according to UNICEF. Tahira Habib, from the Lahore-based Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, says that the country’s tribal areas are the most problematic. She received 99 cases of child marriage just this year. “But this is just the tip of the iceberg,” she said, “Very few such cases are reported because reporting them would stigmatize the family that does so.”

Kishwar Zehra, a Pakistani lawmaker, says the country’s religious right is the most prominent opposition to creating laws to safeguard children from marriage. The Council on Islamic Ideology has publicly opposed any law setting a minimum age for girls.

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