In his attempt to convince me to get married, my dad started telling me how our religion advocates girls’ marriage at the age of 9. With historical references at his disposal, this was no light morning conversation as the car sped through Shahrah-e-Faisal. And so I fell quiet but with the firm belief to return to the conversation laden with references myself. Because what is marriageable age? Who is a child? What is childhood?
Comparing the past with the present
I told myself that I could not deny history and religion. But what happened did indeed happen. So what changed? That is the 21st century is so different from the 7th century that the concept of marriageable age does not sit right with me? And thus, I proceeded to investigate further what happened in 14 centuries. Or what did not, for that matter.
It was not just the Islamic history that witnessed girls being married at the ages of 7 and 9. But in the West as well, we see that historically, girls would get married the moment they would reach their childbearing age. But now, even though the legal age for marriage is 18, that too seems too young for a girl to be married. Doesn’t it? So let’s explore it together.
Childhood? What is that?
The 17th and 18th centuries witnessed an Enlightenment thinker by the name of John Locke. He introduced the concept of childhood, saying that people of young ages are children. Up until then, they were treated as mini-adults. They would work as employees in mines, and basically, they would do all the tasks expected of an ordinary adult these days.
But now, with the introduction of childhood, society started becoming accustomed to the idea of childhood. From then on, we started seeing the schools emerge. The notion of playgrounds also materialized through these schools, the view that the age of youth is synonymous with playing.
What Ensued Right After?
What ensued? Nothing! We accepted all that. Be it due to colonialization or something else; the whole world accepted this new notion. We decided that we will treat our kids as children. And we continued in that trajectory so much so that the children accepted their role as a child. Now, even 18-year-olds have the mentality of children. We don’t consider someone an adult until they have done their undergraduate.
So how is it that someone would accept the idea of getting married at an age I would attribute to childhood? And how is it that our previous generation is still endorsing a practice that was rampant before the introduction of a phenomenon? Shouldn’t we have adapted to it as well? Shouldn’t our parents adapt to it too? Shouldn’t we look at our present in light of not just history when it suits ourselves but with an interdisciplinary lens? A lens curated by being aware of history, religion as well as anthropology? How is then the age of 9 still a marriageable age? How is 18, even a marriageable period?
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