Pakistan province outlaws girls being married under 18

A Pakistani province has become the first in the country to set the minimum age for marriage at 18.

New laws passed in the southern region of Sindh mean that any man marrying a girl under 18 faces a prison sentence of between two and three years and a fine of about $460.

The parents of an underage bride or anyone conducting or facilitating the wedding could also face going to jail and being fined.

In the rest of Pakistan the legal age for marrying is 16 for women and 18 for men – but many girls are married much younger. This means they are often denied the chance to go to school.

The United Nations has backed the decision by the Sindh assembly.

Timo Pakkala, the UN Resident Co-ordinator and Humanitarian Co-ordinator, said: “This initiative is a great leap forward in ensuring one of the basic rights of the child which is closely linked to the issues of health, education and protection against violence and abuse.

“Support to legislative reforms based on basic human rights is a priority for the United Nations in Pakistan.”

UN Special Envoy for Global Education Gordon Brown urged the creation of child marriage-free zones during a recent visit to Pakistan.

He said: “I congratulate the assembly's unanimous passing of the Sindh Child Marriages Restraint Bill.

“This is an example for the other provincial governments to follow to help young girls move from exploitation into education.

“We must not only welcome the new law but make sure we impose it with proper policing so that girls can be pupils at schools not brides forced into marriage against their will. “