Ending Impunity for Child Marriage in Pakistan: Normative and Implementation Gaps

Pakistan ranks sixth in the world in terms of absolute numbers of child marriage. As many as 21% of women are married before the age of 18. Child marriage triggers a continuum of harms that violate the rights of women and girls guaranteed by the Pakistan’s Constitution.

Child marriage in Pakistan is prohibited under the 1929 Child Marriage Restraint Act (CMRA), which sets the legal age of marriage at 18 for boys and 16 for girls. The province of Sindh has passed its own child marriage legislation, the 2013 Sindh Child Marriage Restraint Act, which sets the minimum age of marriage at 18 for both girls and boys. However, there are a number of gaps and loopholes in the child marriage laws. The CMRA is silent with respect to the validity of marriages that are performed in violation of the law and does not require the provision of legal or economic support for girls who are victims of child marriage. The CMRA is also inconsistent with religious personal laws permitting the marriage of children, such as Muslim personal law that permits marriage at puberty. Neither the courts nor the legislatures have clarified whether child marriage legislation prevails over religious personal laws. The implementation of child marriage legislation is also hampered by the weakness of systems for the monitoring and recording of child marriages and barriers faced by women and girls to accessing law enforcement authorities and courts. Therefore, gaps and inconsistencies within the policy and legal framework promote a culture of impunity for child marriage in Pakistan.