NEW DELHI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Pakistan's southern province of Sindh has become the first region in the country to make marriage below the age of 18 a criminal offence, the Express Tribune reported on Monday, a move which could pave the way for a national law against child marriage.
According to the report, Sindh's provincial assembly passed the Child Marriage Restraint Act 2013. Under the law, parents of the couple, as well as the bride and groom, could face up to three years in jail and a fine of 45,000 rupees ($460).
Nationally, women can legally marry at 16 in Pakistan and men at 18. But many marry much younger, and the existing penalty for anyone involved in a child marriage is a $10 fine, possibly accompanied by up to a month's imprisonment.
"The Sindh Assembly is the first assembly in the country to pass a bill of this kind," the Express Tribune reported.
Around 46 percent of women in South Asia between the ages of 20 to 24 report having been married before the age of 18, translating to 24.4 million girls, according to a November 2013 report by the Center for Reproductive Rights. This figure is likely to increase to a staggering 130 million by 2030, it added.
Human rights campaigners say child marriage can trigger a series of violations that have repercussions throughout a girl's life.
It starts with forced initiation into sex and on-going sexual violence, resulting in early and unplanned pregnancy, which may put her life or that of her child at risk.
Girls married as children are often denied the chance to go to school and are isolated from society and forced into a lifetime of economic dependence as a wife and mother.