At a recent Pakistani bridal fashion show, one model drew more more attention than all the others. That’s because she was wearing a school uniform and a backpack, and was clearly a young girl not ready yet to be married.

The girl stood in stark contrast against older models in ornate bridal wear to make a statement against child marriage — part of United Nations Women Pakistan’s campaign.

The campaign, created in collaboration with designer Ali Xeeshan, sought to raise awareness about child marriage in Pakistan, where 21% of children are married before the age of 18 according to UNICEF.

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The age of marriage for girls in Pakistan is 16, but 18 for boys; Human Rights Watch has said that the difference in age minimums is a violation of Pakistan’s obligations under international human rights law. And in October the Pakistani government rejected the Child Marriage Restraint Act, a bill that proposed leveling the law and raising the minimum age of marriage for girls to 18, Dawn reported.

But even with the minimum age set at 16, child marriage remains a problem in Pakistan as the law is poorly enforced, according to Human Rights Watch, as judges often make decisions based on Islamic laws that allow any girl who has hit puberty to be married.

The girl appeared in the fashion show with her school bag and “bridal uniform” — a school uniform with gold embellishments — hinting at the educational opportunities that are lost when girls are forced into early marriages.

Image: Courtesy of UN Women Pakistan and Stopmotion Digital

The goal of the “bridal uniform” campaign is not only to raise awareness of the issue, but also to garner public support for the Child Marriage Restraint Act in hopes that it will be passed in the future.

Read more: 6 Unbelievable Things That Girls Have Been Traded for in Child Marriage Cases

This issue of child marriage is not unique to Pakistan. In neighboring India, 47% of children are married before their 18th birthdays, according to UNICEF. And in nearby Bangladesh, the figure is even higher with 52% of children under the age of 18 married.

In developing countries around the world one in nine girls is married before she turns 15, the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) reported.

When girls are married off at a young age, their formal education often comes to a halt and their lives as wives and mothers begin. Child brides not only lose out on educational opportunities, but are also exposed to greater health risks, including pregnancy-related complications and sexually transmitted infections, according to UNFPA.

Global Citizen campaigns to #LeveltheLaw for gender equality. You can take action here to help eliminate discriminatory policies and prevent early marriage.


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This Young Model Sent a Power Message During a Pakistani Bridal Fashion Show

By Daniele Selby