Shehnaz Mir

Gender is referred to socially constructed norms, values, roles and responsibilities attributed to men and women in society. In our society women are generally deprived based on these attributes. Early marriage is the root of one of the overwhelming issues regarding women’s low status in society generally and less ratio in education particularly. The following passage presents the current social practices prevailing in our society at home level i.e. early marriages and their implications for gender in education. Specific recommendations are also presented to the said notion.

The metaphor “too old for toys, too young for motherhood” mentioned in one of the UNICEF (1994) reports very beautifully captures the practices of early marriages. Where female sovereignty is considered unstable or risky, early marriages are used as a means of securing daughters’ future (Pandy, 2004). This extremely hinders educational progress of girls in many countries. The practice of marrying off girls at a young age is most common practice in South Asia generally and in the Pakistani context particularly (UNICEF, 2009 & UNICEF, 2001 & Ullah, 2011). Generally, it is believed that girls are married at an early age because they fetch high price and no consideration is given for a suitable match for a marriage (SEHER, 2002). According to the Islamic law the legal minimum age of marriage in Pakistan is 18 years for women. However, girls are married before the age of 18. According to one of the reports of (UNICEF, 2009), child in India, Nepal and Pakistan may be engaged or even married well before they are 10 years old.  Early marriages are far more prevalent in Pakistan’s rural areas than in its urban areas. One of the study reports of UNFPA (2007), in Pakistan found that 58 % of rural females get married before reaching the age of 20, as compared to 27 % of urban females. Alongside rural/urban differences in early marriage trends, there are also significant variations in early marriage statistics between and across Pakistan’s four provinces. In the available statistics (UNFPA, 2007) Sindh shows the highest percentage of early marriages in rural areas, with 72% of females in the selected sample, married before 20. Sindh also has a high percentage of females in urban areas married by 20, reaching 36 %. Baluchistan closely follows Sindh in terms of early rural marriages (63 % of females married before 20), and has the highest percentage of urban early marriages, with 56 % females marrying before 20. The same study also found that Punjab stands out as the province having the most females marrying at later ages in both rural and urban areas. The study also indicates that only 50 % of the women in rural and 20 % of women in urban areas of Punjab marry before twenty. In KPK it was found equaling 63%. These statistics provide us with shocking figures regarding the issue and in these circumstances early marriages become a reason to leave schools. It is not just a problem that exists in remote areas of Pakistan, but is widely prevalent, affecting over a third of Pakistan’s adolescents, and continuing in a vicious cycle to affect their children. Marriage, a cause of celebration around the world, becomes a Black Hole of depression when young children are married (UNFPA 2007). The environment that these children are exposed to in these delicate stages, forever indulge their personalities. It is reality, and it is all around Pakistan.

The extensive socially accepted practice of early or child marriage is clearly a violation of the rights of the child and a harmful traditional practice. Within a right perspective, three key concerns are the denial of childhood and adolescence, the restriction of personal freedom and the lack of opportunity to develop a full sense of selfhood as well as the denial of psychosocial and emotional well-being, reproductive health and educational opportunity (UNFPA, 2007 ; Chinyelu & Nwokolo , 2010).

 Schools are the most important institutions outside the family involved in socializing young people into all dimensions of adult roles and responsibilities. More years of schooling have been associated with many positive outcomes, including later ages of marriage better educated children, and economic development, However, early marriage inevitably denies children of school age their right to the education they need for their personal development, their preparation for adulthood, and their effective contribution to the future wellbeing of their family and society (WCLRF, 2008). The report also reveals that the removal from school of a young girl to marry, or to work in her parents’ or another household in preparation for married life, limits her opportunities to develop her intellect. She also loses out on socializing, making friends outside her family circle, and many other useful skills. This reduces her chances of developing her own independent identity.

 Although attitudes towards the education of girls have begun to change even in traditional societies, but there are very fewer schools available for them and also I know many parents in my context who still believe that investment in a girl’s education is wasted when she is simply going to be married and work in another household. As a result, the costs of the investment in education reinforce the motivation towards the girl’s withdrawal from school.

In recent years, education policies such as the provision of stipends enabled the majority of girls in Pakistan to have access to primary education, and many had the opportunity of entering secondary schools. However, early marriage prevented them from completing secondary education and enhancing their prospects of professional mobility (Ullah, 2011). Moreover, for a number of poorer families, the potential rewards of educating daughters are too far off and therefore their education is not recognized as an investment.

In general, early marriages of girls impair the consciousness and pleasure of almost every girl of their rights. Moreover, it depresses their freedom, opportunity for personal development and rights including health, education and many more. Furthermore, early marriages result in nullifying the meaning of life for girls.

Unless measures are taken to address early marriages, it will continue to be a major faltering block to the achievement of human rights. In order to prevent early marriages it is recommended that research must be done and converted into accessible way in local languages to promote public awareness of the existence of harmful traditional and cultural practices that result in violence against women and early marriages of girls (ESCAPE, n.d.). Also, it is needed to research on the implementation of the current laws which claim women’s rights. Furthermore, regular awareness programs have to be implemented in order to end the silent misery of millions of girls in many countries around the world, to open up new horizons for them. These programs should mostly focus on rural and remote areas.

The contributor is a student at Aga Khan University’s Institute for Educational Development (IED). 

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