Pakistani girls still forcibly married to resolve disputes

July 23rd, 2008 - 2:15 pm ICT by IANS  

By Muhammad Najeeb
Islamabad, July 23 (IANS) The ‘vani’ custom - that sees young girls being forced into marriage to resolve feuds between clans - continues in Pakistan’s tribal areas despite efforts by civil society and the government to curb the illegal practice. In one such incident, two girls aged 11 and 9 in Abbottabad district of the North West Frontier Province were “given” to 28- and 34 year-old men respectively to settle a 10-year-old murder case.

The dispute dated back to 1998, when Tareen Shah, a resident of the district eloped with a girl, Nushmina, from the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan to marry her. While the duo was fleeing, they were caught and locked in a room.

The couple managed to escape three days later by killing the man who was guarding them.

A year later, the family of the girl traced them to a village in Abbottabad. A jirga was summoned and both the parties agreed that Shah would have to marry two off his nieces, Saira and Zainab, who were aged three and one at that time, police sources told IANS.

It was also decided that the girls would be married only after they grew up. However, last week their mother, Yasmin, lodged a complaint with the police that her brother-in-law Tareen Shah had taken the girls to tribal areas.

Police said they have arrested Shah who claimed the girls were sent with the relatives of Nushmina with the consent of their father Zarin Taj.

However, Taj in a statement to a civil judge said he didn’t know that his daughters were being sent to the tribal areas. Rather, his brother told him that the girls had gone with Nushmina’s relatives for recreation.

According to a police official, Saira was being married to a 28-year-old man while her younger sister Zainab to a 34-year-old man, the grooms being Nushmina’s cousins.

The person killed by Shah 10 years ago was the elder brother of the grooms.

There has been a raging campaign, including through television serials, plays and awareness programmes against the custom, which is illegal according to Pakistani law.

Underage marriage and marriage without consent is also a crime according to the law and those involved can be punished with life imprisonment besides heavy fines.

“We need stricter laws to deal with such cases. This is totally inhuman, marrying an eight-year-old girl should be a crime with at least capital punishment,” says Bushra Sehr, a social activist, arguing that government should put an end to vani.

She said it was shameful that in the 21st century, girls were given as compensation for crimes committed by their elders.

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