Pakistan

UNICEF works to convince remote communities in Pakistan to abandon child marriage

'The State of the World's Children 2011 – Adolescence: An Age of Opportunity,' UNICEF’s new flagship report, focuses on the development and rights of more than a billion children aged 10 to 19 worldwide. This series of stories, essays and multimedia features seeks to accelerate and elevate adolescents' fight against poverty, inequality and gender discrimination.

By Malcolm Brabant

SALEWALA, Pakistan, 16 March 2011- Pakistan’s disastrous flood last July has created an opportunity to convince rural communities to stop pushing girls into child marriages.

VIDEO: UNICEF's Malcolm Brabant reports on the organization's efforts to convince families in southern Pakistan to stop the tradition of child marriage.  Watch in RealPlayer

 

People from remote villages who were forced to abandon their homes by the flood are being exposed to new outside influences and arguments against under-age marriage.

“People are coming out of isolation,” said Jan Sigismund, UNICEF emergency coordinator in Multan, Punjab. “A change of mentality is taking place.” He was speaking outside a UNICEF-supported child-friendly space where Farzana, 17, was playing with her two children.

Farzana was married at the age of 15 to a distant relative and is bitter that her childhood and education were curtailed. “It hurts me a lot,” she said, a toddler crying on her lap and only her eyes visible beneath a scarf. “I wanted to study and make a life for myself.”

Link to development

People don’t realize than an educated mother could raise her children better, she added. Three other child brides sat beside her, equally covered.

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF video
Girls forced into child marriage bring their children to a child-friendly space supported by UNICEF in Salewala, southern Punjab, Pakistan.

Stopping child marriage, on the other hand, lays the foundation for girls' access to education, improved child and maternal health, and sustainable economic development that includes girls – all of which are key Millennium Development Goals.

Child marriage is both a consequence and a cause of poverty. In Pakistan, parents often approve of child marriage as a way of reducing the number of mouths to feed in large families. But early marriage leads to early childbearing, which has severe health risks implications for both mother and child.

Early childbearing is the leading cause of death for girls aged 15 to 19 in developing countries. Those born to child brides grow up less healthy and poorer.

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF video
Farzana, 17, plays with one of her children outside a child-friendly space supported by UNICEF in Salewala, southern Punjab, Pakistan. She was forced into child marriage two years ago and feels bitter about her lost childhood.

Breaking the cycle

Although UNICEF officials are optimistic of changing attitudes, fears remain that last year’s flooding may accelerate the practice of child marriage. Nearly 20 million people were affected by the floods and many not only lost their homes, but also the means to earn a living.

Parents may now reluctantly decide to push their daughters into unwanted early marriages because of poverty.

Farzana says such a cycle is one she doesn’t want repeated. “We don’t want our daughters to be like us,” she says. “We want our daughters to study and handle their responsibilities, become teachers or whatever they wish to.”

Without financial support for families to break old habits, she does, however, fear the worst.


 

 

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