Vital Statistics and Underage Marriages

Living in a third-world country might be not one’s fault but one ought to pay the price for being in the third world. Pakistan like other third-world countries lacks basic facilities ranging from health to education. Vital statistics are important in policymaking, implanting policies, and evaluating projects. For a common person, vital statistics mean registering the birth, death, marriage, and other issues related to demography but for the government, it is beyond that these registrations give a road map to a government for future interventions. In developed countries, vital statistics are considered pivotal in framing and drafting social policy. These statistics enable the government to prioritize different sectors for funding according to the needs of society. Distribution of resources and eliminating inequality in different aspects of life also depend upon accurate figures of vital statistics. Societies where inequality in terms of gender, race, religion, social class, and ethnic groups is evident and needs to address immediately, have to improve in the field of vital statistics.

Unfortunately, we are lacking in maintaining the vital statistics as the case is for other fields of life. According to the Household survey 2017-18, only 42% of total children under 5 years were registered and only 36% have their birth certificates. The rates of children’s birth registration in urban areas were much higher than the rates of birth registration in rural areas. The same disparity was evident between different socio-economic groups. There can be a thousand reasons behind the problem of registering vital statistics; to me, government priority and masses awareness are two major factors contributing to low registration. By the way, whatever the causes are, the consequences are dangerous and affect every part of society, especially the marginalized groups.

Meanwhile the menace of underage marriage especially the marriage of minor girls is not a new phenomenon in our country. It is a deep-rooted issue protected by and flourished under the umbrella of the patriarchal family system. In the patriarchal family system, daughters are considered a “liability” rather than an asset, this understanding forces parents to shift the liability to their husband by marrying her at an early age. The minimum age for marriage in all parts of the country is 16 years except in Sindh province where it is 18 years. The available statistics showed that more than 3% of girls are married at the age of 15 years or less. But the question that arises here is whether the statistics are manipulated by the families to avoid legal action. The flaw in our registration system opens the window for the parents to register the fabricated birth dates of children, especially girls to meet the requirement of the legal age which is 16 years.

Although the problem of underage marriages is multifaceted and complicated to deal with, doing only one thing which is registering the birth date at the time of birth, can help us significantly to tackle this problem. Timely birth registration will shut the door to underage marriages. It will also help to develop a policy for family issues by using factual data rather than believing the perceived data. The role of officials dealing with vital statistics is important and their commitment to bringing original data can bear fruits. Another important factor is the use of the latest technology to make the process of registration hassle-free and comfortable. Government should initiate an awareness campaign in different places focusing on marginal groups and areas. The awareness campaign can help to change people’s attitudes towards the registration of vital statistics. Masses also need to understand the importance of the issue and their willingness to register the birth at an early stage can save us from a demographic disaster.

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