Peshawar: Child brides will no longer be under the radar of the law, as these children would look mature after taking medicinal drugs for weight gain.
Child marriages are a common but illegal practice across Pakistan where families marry their children in their early teens, and sometimes even earlier.
The tribal regions of Pakistan have a large number of cases that have yet to garner media and government attention. These child marriages are deemed as the norm every time someone marries his/her children according to their religious and cultural ways.
In the valley of Peshawar’s Yakatoot area, Sehrish (not real name) was fourteen years old when her parents decided to make her tie the knot with her life partner who was 33 at the time. “I didn’t know what was happening with me, all I had heard from fellow school girls was that marriage is a necessary part of a girl’s life”, says Sehrish, while smiling over her past as a school going child suddenly plunged into the daunting reality of being a bride. “I used to take a syrup and IV drips that changed my thin frame into that of an older, heavier girl in a matter of months.”
Most of the girls from the locality get married during their late formative years, oblivious of their basic rights of education and the harmful effects of being a child bride.
Sehrish’s mother is of the view that her daughter was too weak and these medicines were never meant to change ‘Sehrish’ in order to make her look like an adult girl ready for marriage. “Many of the families use such medicines with the prescription of local doctors”, she told Truth Tracker.
Upon being questioned, Sehrish’s mother said that a private medical store where the staff do not have a license or a degree in medicine call themselves ‘doctors’ and continue to practice in the village. These phony doctors are common all across the suburbs of Peshawar.
Most child marriages cases are swept under the rug by the families themselves, although they are involved in this to avoid intervention from the government, Saba Ismail, co-founder ‘AWARE Girls’ expresses her concerns regarding child marriages in the country. “It is a mindset in Pakistan, as these girls are conditioned into thinking that they do not belong to their families, or in their homes since childhood because they’re going to be married off.”
She says that this mindset is steeped so deep into their ethos that cultural proverbs commonly reinforce the same concept; in Pakhto: Khaza da pradey deran khazala da— (a woman is supposed to take care of someone else’s home).
“Unless the discrimination towards girls is not completely eliminated in Pakistan, it is difficult to fight against child marriages,” said Saba.
According to the paper published by the Institute of Social Justice in 2001, an estimated 37 percent of women were reportedly married before the age of 18. Unfortunately, the percentage remains the same.
Health experts and doctors consider the unnecessary intake of medicines for weight gain dangerous and unethical when prescribed by common people in medical stores or by medical technicians.
According to Dr Saud, Medical Officer at Khyber Teaching Hospital, Peshawar, people take multivitamins like Fefolvite, and syrups like Trimetabol which help in digestion to get the required bulk, coupling them with power injections in ringer lactate solution. Apart from all that, steroids like “dectadrone” injections, which professional doctors would never allow, since these medicines and steroids can make a person look older than they are, while having numerous side effects. Saud said it is dangerous because it abuses the natural growth hormone, and it causes the body or face to swell up but halts bone growth in children.
“Fake doctors (Quacks, who happen to be mal-practitioners) in street and village clinics play with people’s lives,” says Saud. Usage of such medicines affects the growth of the pelvic bone and affect pregnancies, he added.
On the other hand, child marriages reinforce the ‘honour’ that is tied to a woman’s body in Pakistan. Families in this patriarchal system want to control the women and prevent them from being equal to a normal human being, therefore they want girls to get married at an early age,” said Saba.
“Any form of drugs used to make girls’ bodies look mature is inhumane, she might look mature, older than her age, but her body system, her mind and her dreams still need nourishment and she deserves to be treated with dignity and respect,” says Saba.
Pakistan’s government in all of the provinces is seemingly unable fully outlaw child marriages in the country.
“After the 18th Amendment, provinces were given the legislative power on different subjects including the child marriages law, but Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government has yet to pass the 2014 proposed draft of law on child marriages,” explained Zahoor Rehman, a lawyer from Peshawar.
He said, “Controversy exists in the country regarding laws banning child marriages, where Pakistan’s Islamic Ideology Council has declared that a girl reaching puberty at the age of 9 can be married which is in contradiction with the Universal Human Rights Charter.”
“The Muslim family law ordinance 1961 enhanced the minimum age limit for girls up to 16 years, which was previously 14 years, and it can create a lot of confusion if the Islamic Ideology Council of Pakistan views are considered,” says Zahoor.
While Truth Tracker tried to reach Khyber Pakhtunkhwa law officials via phone, it failed to get a response despite repeated attempts.
Although Sehrish is currently happy with her life partner, she still has regrets about missing years of schooling, years of childhood play, and the chance to be a mature, sensible bride. “What can one say when your family and parents decide your fate, we can only follow their instructions as we are required to respect our elders,” says Sehrish.