To the teen moms of rural Punjab

Published: June 25, 2016
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Once married, despite their young age, these brides are expected to have a child, preferably, by the end of the first year of marriage. PHOTO: REUTERS

 A teenager’s angst at not being able to conceive is not something many of us are familiar with.

“Why should it surprise me, though?” I thought to myself, as I overheard the conversation between my mother and this teenager.

We were in our village home where she had come to pay my mother a visit. Her pale skin, devoid of any youthful glow, was sticking tightly to her small bone structure, making her look malnourished. She must be around 16 or 17-years-old, but she’s been married for a couple of years.

“I have been to the gynaecologist, and I’m not sure what kind of problem she said I had.”

She was telling my mother that she had been unable to properly understand the diagnosis that her gynaecologist had made.

“I want to have a baby soon, as there isn’t anything else to look forward to in life. My husband sometimes goes away to look for work in the city, and I earn bread and butter by working in the fields. I think having a child would add some joy and excitement in my life. This is all I can hope for.”

In a naïve but a strangely sombre way, she spoke about how not being able to conceive was worrying her. At an age when most of us enjoy being careless, young, and excited about the countless possibilities in store for us, most teens of rural Pakistan face quite different dilemmas.

I have met several teenagers who face various problems associated to motherhood; from infertility, miscarriages to the deaths of infants. Women in rural Punjab play a pivotal role in helping their men financially and working in the fields as it is their primary source of income. So if you thought that being able to earn money makes a woman independent, then you might want to visit these villages. This particular girl, for instance, looks for work here and there to help her husband make a living.

The impasse of many young girls like her could clearly be seen – as she told my mother with utter seriousness that,

“Once you get married, you’re lost for good.”

In rural Punjab, parents arrange their daughters’ marriage as soon as they hit puberty; it’s seen as a wise and honourable step. However, it’s not their fault entirely as such regions have been deprived of other modes of life for a long time. Due to ineffective law enforcement and mediocre behaviours, the safety of their daughters is sometimes a crucial concern for these parents. The financial issues and traditional approach take precedence over other factors.

Once married, despite their young age, these brides are expected to have a child, preferably, by the end of the first year of marriage. However, most girls’ diet lacks proper nutrition (this goes for boys as well, however girls are in a far worse situation); giving birth often results in either the mother’s or the baby’s demise. Despite the fact that their bodies might not be ready or strong enough to bear a child, these teens are often mentally prepared to conceive early because that’s what guarantees a better life for them. At least, according to the ideology they’ve been seeded with.

I do not intend on passing a verdict on what should be the proper age for females to bear children; this authority lies with the people who belong to the relevant fields of medicine. Forgive me if I dared to intervene in your domain – it’s all just personal observation and opinion.

I cannot help but notice the way these rural teenagers are burdened in their blossoming years with responsibilities, without supplying them with enough equipment to handle the task. We can help the youth of our rural areas by providing them with special educational programs that are developed by the ministry of education, along with quality traditional education. These educational programs should not only target the social requirements, but should also obliterate the borders between our rural areas and the rest of the country.

With a limited set up and a fixed lifestyle, it comes as no surprise that the youth in these rural areas are unable to tap into the vast resources available otherwise. There has been a delay in the economic and educational sector for a long time; without these factors, we cannot expect a change in preferences or attitudes. The women of such rural areas are hardworking, tough and courageous; it’s obvious from the way they deal with their social and familial duties, despite their shortcomings and poverty.

These are our true unsung heroes and they deserve to be acknowledged from today’s intellectuals – who are overly absorbed with religious and political drama.

Zahra Akbar

Zahra Akbar

The author is a student of English Linguistics and Literature at COMSATS. She's a poet, blogger, and hobbyist painter.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.