Child marriages have long been reported from many parts of the world, with people under age of maturity wed for various reasons. Africa, India and Pakistan, and the Middle East are some of the regions where child marriages still happen; and, in fact, are common practice. Their prevention has been difficult due to personal interests of parties involved in it. Apart from money and societal factors, some places even offer legal protection to child marriages.
Saudi Arabia and Iran are two countries, both often regarded as fundamentalist Islamic states, where child marriage has been backed by the clergy. Last year, when efforts were made to ban child marriages in Saudi kingdom, one influential cleric issued a ruling that supported child marriage. The report of this incident mentioned that it was not the first time clerics were thwarting an initiative to set an appropriate age limit for marriages. Till late last year, media were still raising the question of unbridled child marriages in the Saudi kingdom.
Some alarming news in this context has surfaced from Iran recently, informing that Iran’s parliament is considering to legally pass 9 years as the minimum age appropriate for a girl to get married. Thus lowering the legal age for girls to get married is being reportedly justified by referring to sharia (Islamic law), which has various versions in different places. This move of the parliament is feared to reverse the partial victory of human rights activists in banning child marriages in Iran a decade ago.
In India, where Arabs from wealthy gulf states have long taken underage girls as bride under the umbrella of sharia, a recent child marriage case ran into a dispute between state law and sharia. A group of Muslims went on a protest because the state arrested a man in his 30s who married a teenage girl under 18, which is the legal age of maturity for girls according to Indian law. The protestors contended that the marriage was valid on the basis of Islamic law.
Child marriages have been found as causing serious physical and psychological complications, particularly among young girls, besides a significantly high infant mortality rate and end of a fulfilling childhood experience prematurely. With lowering of age for marriage, the incidence of these complications is likely to rise. Greater awareness and activation are therefore needed for countering this risk that millions face in the developing world.