Ending child marriage is crucial for girls ‘rights, health, well being and ability to survive into violence free adulthood. Global good practices suggest that ending child marriage lessens the burden on health infrastructure and reduces the human footprint of resource-poor countries. It reduces human suffering, recognizes human dignity and challenges gender-based discrimination. Ultimately, ending child marriage frees untapped human resources and enables girls and women to more effectively contribute to global human development.
With the legal age of marriage for girls being 16 except in Sindh where it is 18, Pakistan has the sixth highest number of absolute child brides in the world (1.9 million). According to UNICEF. “The State of the World’s Children, 2017 Child marriage prevalence rates in Pakistan remain alarmingly high; more than 21 percent of girls in Pakistan are married before 18 and 3 percent before they are 15 years old. Across provinces, prevalence is reported to be highest in Sindh (33%), followed by Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (29%), Baluchistan (22%), and Punjab (20%). According to World Bank “The Economic Impacts of Child Marriage”. It is estimated that by ending Child and Early Age marriage (CEAM) the country could potentially save 77 million dollars by 2030 or lead to a 6229 million dollar rise in earnings and productivity. It would also lead to reduction of multi-dimensional poverty level – number 1 priority for the government.
One fruitful but not fully tapped strategy is to use girls’ education as a mechanism for reducing child marriage. Indeed, there is a newly emerged global consensus on the importance of girls’ education as a strategy to combat child marriage—but it has yet to be translated into action in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
While the Health and Demographic Survey, report 2017-2018 of Pakistan reflects that among the household population of Pakistan 50% of women have no education compared with 34% of men. Only 9% of the women have secondary and 10% have a higher level of education.
The 2017-18 PDHS asked the reason for dropping out of school for de facto households members age 5-24. The most common reasons cited for women are getting married with ratio of 22.3 of females in urban areas and thinking further education was not necessary (18% each) followed by not being interested in education (17%), costing too much (13%), and school being too far (9%) but in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa there is a fundamental policy disconnect between educationalists and actors who are working to end child marriage that must be bridged urgently.
In the context of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa there are significant overlaps between child marriage and poverty, particularly where girls face limited economic and educational opportunities and, in turn, are highly dependent on male breadwinners.
Education for girls is one of the best strategies for protecting girls against child marriage. When they are able to stay in school and avoid being married early, girls can build a foundation for a better life for themselves and their families. In addition, if they have already been married young, access to education, economic opportunities and health service which can improve their life significantly.
According to the survey conducted by Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Elementary and Secondary Education Department in year 2018, 1.8 million children are out of school in the province which makes 23% of the total population aged 5-17. Out of the total out of schoolchildren, 64% are girls while 36% are boys. However, beyond access, there is a critical need of attitude changes among opinion leaders toward girls’ education as well as changes to the education system, the school environment and the pedagogy of the curriculum. The education system needs to be reformed by improving quality and recruiting more female teachers, and regulations must be put in place to give married adolescents a second chance at education.
While the current Govt has taken several revolutionary steps in improving girls education and by allocating 70 percent of the education development budget towards girls education, there is also general agreement among those currently working in the field that the school environment must be made safe and secure and that girls’ sanitation and hygiene needs must be met. The pedagogy of the curriculum must be empowering for girls by providing life skills and marketable aptitudes that will give girls a viable alternative to early marriage. It is time that provincial Govt of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa bring girls’ education policies in line with the new global strategy in which education is central.