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Should a Child Ever Marry?

Date:13 MAR 2007

Mr Justice Tassaduq Hussain Jillani, Judge of the Supreme Court of Pakistan. Child marriage has been a universal phenomenon. It has not been religion, region or people specific. In the modern context, it is argued here, it is a gross abuse and exploitation of young girls. Various bodies, including the UN, have taken measures to try and curb child marriage. It has become a matter for various key human rights declarations, conventions and agreements, many of which have encouraged the development of educational and employment opportunities for girls and young women.

This article reveals the incidences in Pakistan of forced marriages, exchange marriages (where one pair of siblings marry another pair of siblings) and marriage or exchange of females as compensation for compensating disputes/offences, contrary to the law. It considers the role of the legal system in pushing for social change and the correlation between poverty and child marriage. Despite legislation, however, the tradition of child marriage will continue to be practiced unless the well-entrenched customs, prejudices and traditionally defined roles of women are changed through education, public opinion and judicial intervention. Court interventions have played a significant role in bringing the issue into the public domain, persuading the legislature to amend the law, providing speedier remedies and in protecting females before it is too late. In countries where other societal institutions are neither fully developed or have not responded to such challenges, courts have to play a dynamic role and thereby act as catalysts of social change. Law, including the judge made law, can and must play its role in changing the inhuman social mores.

For the full article see March [2007] International Family Law.