on May 11, 2024, Justice Anwarul Haque of the Lahore High Court delivered a significant judgment in response to a petition filed by Azmat Bibi, concerning the ongoing issue of child marriages. The court has ordered rigorous enforcement actions against marriage registrars and celebrants who fail to adhere to legal requirements about the age of brides.

The case originated from Azmat Bibi’s petition seeking the recovery of her 14-year-old daughter, highlighting a pressing concern within the country about the premature marriage of young girls. The Lahore High Court reiterated that marriage officials must possess and verify documents related to the bride’s age at the time of marriage to combat this issue.

Despite previous clear directives aimed at curtailing child marriages, the court noted with concern that such marriages persist, indicating non-compliance with its orders by some registrars and celebrants. The court’s decision underscores the urgency of strict enforcement by relevant institutions against those flouting these rules.

This ruling coincides with discussions at a recent conference on the Child Marriage Restraint (Amendment) Bill 2022, hosted by the National Commission on the Status of Women in partnership with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). The conference brought together various stakeholders, including representatives from the Ministry of Human Rights, Ministry of Law and Justice, Women’s Parliamentary Caucus, and other pertinent authorities.

Speakers at the conference stressed the dire need for the proposed amendments to the Child Marriage Restraint Act, 1929, to better safeguard children’s constitutional rights under Article 25(2) of the Constitution. They pointed out that in Pakistan, 21% of girls under 18 are married annually, placing Pakistan sixth globally in terms of child marriages, a practice contributing significantly to poverty and adverse health effects on young girls.

Furthermore, a UNICEF report highlighted that while South Asia leads in reducing child marriages globally, Pakistan still faces a long battle. To meet the UN’s goal of eliminating child marriages by 2030, reforms in South Asia, including Pakistan, need to be accelerated sevenfold. Despite progress, about 1.9 million girls in Pakistan remain married as children, a statistic that underscores the ongoing challenges in eradicating this harmful practice.

The Federal Human Rights Minister at the time, Riyaz Hussain Pirzada, commented on the issue, noting that early marriages not only perpetuate poverty but also expose underage girls to severe risks such as sexual and physical abuse, and significant medical complications.

This court ruling and the discussions at the conference collectively highlight a critical moment for Pakistan in addressing child marriage, urging immediate and effective actions to safeguard young girls’ futures.