Only 4 per cent married girls under 18: Report

MUSCAT, Oct 30 – While many young men are not entering the wedlock, marriages of girls below the age of 18 are still registered, although the percentage is not as high as it was a few years ago. According to a recent survey by the National Centre for Statistics and Information (NCSI), four per cent of the girls who were married in the recent past were under 18 years of age. Respondents in the survey included women in the age group 20 and 24. Results of the survey have been compiled in a report, ‘Gender Equality’. “Of the total, 1.2 per cent have admitted they were not even 15 when married,” says the survey, quoting the women.

This shows the need for more awareness campaigns to prevent marriages at an early age, feel experts familiar with the subject. “Time and again, we urge youngsters, both male and female, to attend marriage guidance programmes at the Ministry of Social Development. This will help them understand what married life is,” said Rahma al Zadjali, a social research scholar. According to her, parents too need to be educated about the ills of early marriage. “Giving birth to children during early and mid-adolescence will pose serious health problems not only for mothers but also for their newborns. Children born to adolescent girls are more likely to be premature and have low birth weight,” she said.

Stillbirths and chances of death in the first week of birth are 50 per cent higher among babies born to mothers under the age of 20 than those born to mothers in their 20s, Rehma said, citing a study. Setting and enforcing a minimum legal age for marriage is necessary to protect girls. The judiciary and law enforcement agencies need to be trained and a well-functioning system of universal birth registrations should be in place to ensure girls have a proper document of their age.

Meanwhile, statistics from the Ministry of Justice shows the number of marriages reached 7,156 in the first quarter of the current year, while the number of divorces surged to more than 1,340. While Muscat recorded the highest number of divorces (336) during the period, Musandam saw the lowest number of 63 marriages and 17 divorces. The highest number of marriages (1,634) was solemnised in North Batinah, registering a 22 per cent rise. NCSI figures show the number of registered marriages has decreased from 25,659 in 2015 to 24,014 in 2016 and 22,284 in 2017. At the same time, divorces have seen a spike in 2017 with 3,867 cases as against 3,619 in 2015.

SAMUEL KUTTY