Sadaf Nasim, our youth volunteer from FPA Pakistan addressed women deliver conference at Washington DC, last week. (www.womendeliver.org). Her session ‘Girls Decide’ was organized by IPPF and attended by many participants in the conference. I thought uploading her speech may be useful to all of you – please contact me if you need her original presentation. I will write more about ‘women deliver’ this week.
Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen,
My name is sadaf nasim, and I am a youth volunteer of Rahnuma- Family Planning association of Pakistan – in this presentation I will focus on affect of child marriages on Girls sexual and reproductive health and rights and what interventions are most useful eliminating child marriages
Before I start my presentation I would like know how many of you are married? What marriage means to you? (1-2 volunteers)
Now I want all of you to close your eyes for 10 sec think how were you like when you were 8-10?
(1-2 volunteers speak)
Innocent, naughty, funny, playing with dolls, crying for ice creams and sleeping without any worries
I hope many of you would remember many interesting incidents/stories of your childhood but today I would like to talk about children whose stories are little different than that of many of us !
Stories of girl married in the age of twelve (pictures)
When I was given this topic to discuss many sad memories revived in my mind. I remember my 14 years old sister crying, I was 9 at that time, the entire family decided to get her married to a cousin double of her age 26, 40 days after my father passed away. They all felt that it’s very important for the “protection” of the family. It was with the good will of reducing my mother’s BURDEN.
My sister was scared and crying only because she did not want to go to aunty’s house and it had always been boring experience for us going there because of no age fellow. She could not even realize what it means to be a Wife.
If I am standing here today and talking to you is only because my mother was a strong woman. And she could realize this 13 years old scared crying girl cannot endure the responsibility of a family.
Women free will is something not being recognized even now.This gender inequality is pretty evident in Pakistani society as well as in South Asia from household to education and to any kind of decision making women are given secondary importance which leads to less representation in economic development and in the nation building.
When it comes to child marriages world population foundation survey reports that women in Pakistan age 11-21 are more likely to get married than boys. ( pie chart on slide)
In 2009 49 % of women age 20-24 were married before the age of 18 ! Are they happy with this relationship? Many of them do not understand how to react to this question! When I spoke to few married adolescent the response was very uncertain an as they have never given an option in their lives to “THINK” how they feel about things happening around and to their lives.
Video documentary 3-4 minutes (human interest stories of married adolescent also discussing current situation in south Asia)
Beyond gender disparities and low educational and economic status of women in Pakistan ‘Traditions’ are making this issue complex. Vanni , sawara, watta satta, paith likhi and most of all marriage with Quran is depriving women of their basic human rights. Though islam’s preaching is strongly condemns this practices but in the name of transitions this has been very common in tribal areas of Pakistan.
Another factor enforcing child marriages is Honor of men, that is associated only and only with the women in tribal culture of Pakistan. Women are the symbol of respect and honor – which stimulate a tendency in society to over-protect women – this over protection leads to violation of their basic human rights and also give men an impression that they are superior as they are the “PROTECTORS “and women are passive and they are needed to be protected all the time.
Child marriage is also a way for families and societies to control girls’ sexuality’ and protect family honor. Once a girl is entrusted to her husband the parents are free of the burden of guarding their daughters from unchastely. Should a girl elope, become involved with a boy or adulterate, the family’s honor in the community is ruined.
Any young, attractive girl is seen as the embodiment of boys’ lust and interest, and therefore to have her entrusted to a man lawfully is often the safest solution.
“Early marriage is one way to ensure that a wife is ‘protected’, or placed firmly under male control; that she is submissive to her husband and works hard for her in laws’ household; that the children she bears are ‘legitimate’; and that bonds of affection between couples do not undermine the family unit”.
Due to this ban on free thinking and sexuality
The married adolescent may go through following physical, mental and sexual consequences.
High levels of unprotected sexual relations- Unprotected sexual relations increase likelihood of sexually transmitted infections such as HIV ; only 10% of married girls 15-19 knows that consistent use of condom can reduce the risk of getting AIDS versus 20% of women aged 20-24 years
- Large age gaps with sexual partners- girls cannot negotiate
- Intense pressure to become pregnant- in Pakistan marriage and pregnancy is strongly connected if girl does not give the “good news” in 1st year of marriage her fertility is being questioned and good news has to be a BOY.
- Highly limited or absent peer networks
- Restricted social mobility- intense pressure from in laws and community to take more interest in household activities.
- Little access to modern media (TV, radio, newspapers)
- Limited education attainment and no schooling options
A married female in Pakistan does not have the liberty to refuse sex; she will often have to agree even if not well.
She may also not be allowed to demand sexual protection and family planning. Studies show that the use of contraception is very limited in Pakistan and that younger girls are less likely to be able to use it than older women; according to Pakistan Demographic Health Survery (2006-07) only 4.2 percent of married girls (15-19years) reported using modern contraceptives as compared to 10.6 percent of the women in the age group 20 to 24 years.
Unprotected sexual relations with young girls lead to premature pregnancies; apart from the emotional trauma of such an occurrence, girls between 15 and 19 are also twice as likely to die during pregnancy and childbirth as women in their twenties. In fact, pregnancy-related deaths are the leading cause of death in 15-19 year old girls world-wide.
The condition is intensified by the fact that use of antenatal services by married young people is scarce across Pakistan. According to the DHS (06-07) 66.2% of women below 20 years gave birth at home, vs 62.9% of women in age group 20-34.
A study by Rahnuma-Family Planning Association of Pakistan and UNFPA 2007 investigating the prevalence of gynecological morbidities in Pakistani women found that uterine prolepses were significantly higher among women who married at ages below or equal to sixteen years. “Young” Pakistani women report an immense burden of reproductive ill health, especially those who began sexual activity at an early age.
Obstetric fistula, which results when a young mother’s vagina, bladder and/or rectum tear during childbirth, often occurs to young women during childbirth. There has been 5,000/- to 7,000/- new fistula cases every year.majority of Fistula patients are poor women of young ages below 20. Pregnancy and marriage are closely related in Pakistan, most marriages are almost immediately followed by a pregnancy.
Children born to very young mothers are often unhealthy and weak; they are almost twice as likely to die as children born to older mother
Despite of all these physical, mental sexual health consequences Child marriages are defended very strongly and innocently in Pakistani society and all over south Asia
When a girl has reached puberty – it’s time for marriage (puberty here defines as when a girl starts menstruating)
An important issue in this debate is the assumption that the girl’s attainment of puberty also means her mental maturity. It is very often, quite conveniently, forgotten and denied that a woman is not merely a vehicle for procreation and sex.
Women are often seen only in their reproductive and nurturing role – with the husband and children – which leads to denial of their sexual and reproductive health and rights
The IPPF declaration on sexual rights says that every individual has
- The right to enter relationships, including marriage, with full and free consent and without coercion.
Case of july 2009 (daily Down)
- Eight-year-old Zahida was married to Dilshad, 17, by her father Abdul Rasool in exchange for Dilshad’s sister, whom the father wanted to marry.
- Can anybody call this a marriage?
- (pictures on slide )
This eight year girl has to take care of a family and to perform the responsibility of a wife. Can she understand the duties and most importantly the RIGHTS of a wife ???? we are not only denying human rights ( physical and mental growth, education, childhood freedom) but also planning under-developed generations.
Research conducted by Human rights commission of Pakistan shows that girls who married in early age believe that it’s alright for men to beat their wives. Consequently
There’s a case of wife beating in every two hour in Pakistan
80 % of women in Pakistan face domestic violence.
Another popular justification is
- Quite often girls from poor families are given in marriage to rich old men and the parents rationalize such marriages by asserting that the girls will enjoy better life than they could ever hope for at parental homes.
Well-fed slave is a slave nonetheless and promise of some comfort is no compensation for a minor girl’s sexual exploitation or the denial to her of possibilities of development into a useful member of society.
In a very popular show ofa Samaa TV “ nai rahain” one of The defenders of child marriage argued that girl-brides have the right to wriggle out of an unwanted marriage when they attain puberty and before the marriage is consummated.
This protection has no meaning as girl’s right to decide has been violated any way moreover This protection might have any meaning when small girl-brides stays at parental homes for long periods after the marriage rites would be performed. But husbands do not wait for her to reach ‘puberty’ (puberty as commonly defined) before consummating a relationship and his victim most of the time cannot even comprehend what is happening to her.
21 years law student Asiya bibi married (nikah) when she was 4-5 at the age of when she tried to say no to her childhood commitment she was shot dead while coming out of court building in Lahore by the man she was married to without his will.
This case was of huge magnitude so it was reported but the domestic violence and bad behavior towards women is not even reported. The legal framework against child marriages is also very poor. In Asiya’s case, the ‘husband’ will be imprisoned for one month and will have to pay 1,000/- around 12 dollars as fine. But the marriage would not be nullified. When the girl attains puberty she can move in with him with her consent – but there’s hardly anything like consent of women considered important
To prevent child marriage laws need to be revised. first of all the laws needs to be revised to match at least with the international conventions signed by Pakistan. As of now in our country the legal age at marriage is 16 years for girls and 18 for boys. Birth registration needs to be enforced at the moment only 20 % of total births are registered in Pakistan ( WPF statistics 2005). And most importantly, the community needs to become part of the fight again child marriage.
Too often there is the assumption that “married” implies “adult”. Access to services/entitlements for married adolescents, especially girls is relatively invisible and difficult to reach. They are socially isolated, secluded to their married household.
Married adolescents are totally neglected – working with them today will prevent child marriages in future. We really need to develop intervention to social isolation and economic vulnerability of married adolescent girls. Married Adolescent are adolescent with an extra responsibility and they are forced to be mature and act older than their ages any health and family planning interventions must be designed keeping this in mind. It’s important to Refocus maternal and child health information and outreach to actively engage married adolescent girls, first-time parents
- Involve parents, community leaders, opinion leaders in making them understand the violation of rights which child marriage is.
– Women are beautiful, they are the central character of any household in Pakistan I believe they need their rights and respect rather than protection.
 DHS 2006-07
 Child marriage restraint act, 1929