Humsathi: Empowering girls to become their own advocates and boys as allies to end early child and forced marriage
In Pakistan, the legal age for marriage is 18 for boys and 16 for girls in all but one province. Laws prohibiting marriage of girls under 16 years of age have existed for more than half a century and yet, in 2014, when Shirkat Gah, a women's rights research and advocacy organization, completed a pilot study in the country, they found that knowledge about the law was negligible. Those who were aware of the law were also able to flout it with impunity because, among other things, few births are registered, depriving marriage registrars of hard evidence to prevent under-age marriages. The research revealed that a main driver of early-age marriage was traditional practices. It also identified a new driver in the form of growing religious fundamentalism promoted through madrassahs, mosques, and religious platforms. This
is pushing greater control by male relatives over young women and girls in the form of withdrawing girls from school, early marriage, often without consent, and a stricter confinement within homes.
The pilot study also documented increased risk of discrimination and violence by the husbands and in-laws of the young brides. Control over sexuality passes from birth families to marital families, limiting young women's and girls' mobility and opportunities for growth, including access to education and employment.
The Humsathi interventional study will offer insights on how to prevent, build resilience, and improve responses to early-age/forced marriages across diverse communities in Pakistan's four provinces. The study will provide guidelines on how best to leverage change in communities and polices, improve implementation of existing laws, and propose required reforms. The project will partner with girls, boys, and their communities to transform attitudes toward early-age/forced marriages. The results will help to scale up interventions in other regions and countries.