Sheeba Fars, Mahnoor & Sidra

SWABI/MARDAN: Gul Bibi was married off by her parents when she was just 12 years old with an elderly person who was already married, but did not have children.

In fact, the parents of Gul Bibi wanted to get rid of her and her six other sisters as quickly as possible that is why they accepted the marriage proposal without any hesitation even knowing that the groom is already married and his age was too high as compared to the girl.

“I didn’t know what to do after marriage as the in-laws and first wife of my husband used to scold me regularly on trivial issues,” she said while remembering old times.

Initially, Gul Bibi had no children and the in-laws pressurized her to leave the house as she was not serving the purpose of second marriage. And then she gave birth to a girl, but the in-laws were further offended, demanding that they want a male offspring. However, the girl’s ordeal did not end there and she gave birth to four more girls. She finally gave birth to a boy, but by then her husband fell ill and the responsibility of bringing up all the children fell on her shoulders. Her daughters now work as domestic help in different houses. She has to look after her children, ailing husband and his first wife as well.

Legal age limit for marriage in KP

In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, minimum age limit for marriage for girls is 16 years, and for boys, it is 18 years, but there are still many people, who get rid of their girls and marry them off at a very young age like Gul Bibi. The Women Parliamentary Caucus in KP Assembly passed a resolution from the assembly in July last year to declare minimum age of girl for marriage at 18 years, but that could not get legal shape.

Lawmaker from treasury benches Rabia Basri says consultation is continuing on this legislation, but the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) has expressed some reservations.

According to the KP Marriage Registration Act, those arranging marriage for girls less than 16 years of age can face one-month imprisonment. Kifayatullah Advocate, a Mardan-based lawyer, says this law is not being implemented in letter and spirit. He said most marriages in KP are arranged according to the decisions of parents, so the Marriage Registration Act remains irrelevant.

Effects of early marriage on health

Like Gul Bibi, Maria from Mardan also became victim of early marriage due to which she was affected by physical and mental illness.

Maria says despite long treatment she did not have children and the in-laws continuously threaten her that they will arrange second marriage for her husband. She said she entered marriage at the age of 13, and doctors say it was the main reason that she cannot have children.

The mother of Maria has now realized that it was a wrong decision to arrange her daughter’s marriage at such a young age. She said poverty was the main reason behind early marriage of Maria. Now she has realized that girls should not be married off before they get at least 18 years old.

Saima from Mardan also entered marriage at a very young age.

“I entered marriage at the age of 15 when I did not know much about domestic tasks, and it was a big problem for my in-laws. The attitude of my husband was also negative. Now I am 18 and Almighty has blessed with a daughter, so the attitude of in-laws has improved a bit,” she told TNN.

Early marriages cause diseases

Amna Hilal, a gynecologist from Mardan, says early marriages affects physical and mental health of girls and these effects remain for the rest of life.

Amna Hilal says when girls get pregnant at a low age, they face problems of high blood pressure, fits, diabetes, depression and other issues.

The story is not confined to Gul Bibi, Maria or Saima, as early marriages happen in almost all parts of the country. Psychologists say girls entering marriage in low age are likely to face more domestic problems. Most such girls end up with physical or mental diseases.

Clinical psychologist Dr Safia says when girls stop playing during childhood and suddenly they are asked to look after the family of in-laws, they face nervous breakdown and then they continuously live under stress.

Islamic teachings about marriage

Consultations continue about improvement in marriage laws, but still most people see no problems in early marriage according to Islamic teachings and often cite example of saying of Hazrat Ayesha (RA) about marriage at the age of nine or 11. However, some Ulema (religious scholars) have difference of opinion about this.

Religious Affairs Minister of KP Youth Assembly Sahibzada Muneebur Rehman says the marriage of children who have not reached the age of adulthood is against Islamic teachings.

Gul Bibi has appealed to the government to complete legislation about early marriages as quickly as possible so that other girls don’t face the situation which she is facing currently.