Pakistan: Early Marriage Scars Pakistani Children
- Early Marriage Scars Pakistani Children
By Aamir Latif, IOL Correspondent
Sun. May. 27, 2007
KARACHI Eleven-year old Sassi is currently hiding at
a shelter home located in a slum area of Pakistan's
southern port city of Karachi.
She is not hiding from police, but from her own
drug-addict father, who had sold her in the name of
marriage to a 70-year old man when she was 9 in 2005.
"I had no idea what did marriage mean? I remember my
mother was crying, and fighting with my father, who
was forcing me to go with them (her husband and
family)," Sassi told IslamOnline.net in the corridor
of her shelter house.
"They beat up my mother who was trying to save me."
Hailing from a small town Thatta, located some 100
kilometers off southeast Karachi, Sassi had been
recovered by the local police on the request of her
mother who filed a petition in a court some 20 days
after her daughter's forced marriage.
"They forcibly took me to their home in a nearby
village," she recalled.
"As soon as I reached their home, one of their women
gave me something to eat, which got me unconscious.
When I woke up the next morning, my clothes were
littered with blood."
Sassi said she was "molested" by her husband several
The police arrested her father and her husband, who
were later released on bail following non-pursuance of
case by her mother.
The father had received Rs 70,000 (1200 US dollars)
for marrying her to the aging man.
Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf said on Tuesday,
December 5, his government was planning legislation to
outlaw forced marriages, including a practice of
marrying off women to settle disputes.
The annual number of child marriages taking place in
Pakistan remains unknown.
It is believed most such forced marriages, many
occurring in relatively remote rural areas, go
Parents are often tempted to sell off young girls in
exchange for the high price offered by grooms, often
many times the age of their brides.
Bride prices commonly range from $1,000 to $5,000,
with younger girls drawing a larger amount.
In Islam it is not permissible for the guardian to
compel the one under his guardianship to marry someone
she does not desire to marry.
Rather, it is necessary to seek her consent and
Sassi said the days she spent with her husband were
her worst nightmare.
"I didn't know what to do. I just wanted to either die
or flee from there," she said with her eyes welled up
"But he used to keep a close eye on me. It seemed as
if he knew about my wish."
Sassi was sent by her mother to a shelter home, run by
an NGO providing shelter to homeless women, with the
assistance of Thatta-based women organization.
"My mother sent me here because they (her husband and
his family) had threatened to abduct me," she said.
"They said that I am the honor of their family, and
they can't let their honor to go away."
Sassi is studying, working and residing in the shelter
"I am very happy here. I don't want to go back."
Haider Rizvi, Chairman of the Department of
Psychology, University of Karachi, warns of the
extreme adverse physical and emotional impacts of such
"If a young girl gets married in her quite early age
carries many health hazards like poor reproductive
health due to increased pregnancies, therefore chances
of death become double," he told IOL.
"The poor young poor girls cannot get proper
education, cannot even get the opportunity to learn
the domestic work/skills........especially when the
expectations of in-laws are quite high then domestic
problems are started......consequently end up with
The expert also notes that with a big age difference,
the chances of becoming a widow at a younger age is
"Psychological theories reveal that most of us develop
a primary relationship with someone who is within
three years of our own age. In our urban society, now
the acceptance has been developed for young couples;
on contrary in rural or slum areas the situation
remains the same where the female is considered as a
child producing machine or a sex-tool."
Rizvi maintains that it is high time for parents to
think and revise their cultural and family norms.
"The early marriages for the girls should be
discouraged at every level of the society."
Sassi 's lawyer, Saleha Naeem, says early marriages
are common in rural areas of the South Asian Muslim
country, where women make up nearly 52 percent of the
"This is not the only case. I am also seeing the cases
of three other girls, and one of them was married when
she was only 6 years old," Saleha told IOL.
According to the law, she says, a girl cannot marry
until she is 16, but like all other laws, the
implementation of this law is weak.
Saleha thinks the specter of illiteracy is behind the
early marriage phenomenon.
"A majority of people in the rural areas are unaware
of the importance of an educated mother. Instead of
providing education to their daughters, they want to
get rid of them as soon as possible by marrying them
to even men of their fathers' age," she said.
"There needs to be greater awareness on a wider level
of the rights of women and also punishment for those
who violate laws by selling their children. The
impunity available to them has aggravated the
situation," insisted the lawyer.
The Sindh and southern Punjab region is one of the
most impoverished in the country, and research carried
out into the issue indicates this is a key factor in
the increase in such unlawful unions.
"This phenomenon is common in families belonging to
low income bracket," Justice (rtd) Majida Rizvi told
"They generally consider girls as burden, and
illiteracy is a major reason for that. As soon as the
girls turn 11-12, they think it is high time to get
rid of this burden," she said.
"It's a perverted society in many ways. We have
reports that such marriages are becoming increasingly
common, and they will stop only if the law is
Justice Majida, who was Pakistan's first woman high
court judge, notes that the legality of early
marriages in Pakistan is a complicated issue.
"Under Pakistani law, the Child Marriage Restraint Act
of 1929 states no female under 16 or male less than 18
may marry. But under Hudood Ordinance, as soon as a
girl reaches her puberty, she can marry," aid the
chairwoman of Women Rights Commission.
"This complication needs to be sorted out because
Pakistan is a warm country, and generally girls reach
their puberty at 11 or 12 years here," Justice Majida
In 1990, Pakistan ratified the UN Convention on the
Rights of Child, which prohibits child marriages.
In addition under the Muslim Family Law Ordinance, a
girl must have attained the age of 16 and a boy must
have turned 18, and both need to consent before the
marriage can take place.
Hassamuddin Mansoori, a renowned religious scholar,
says there is no age restriction for marriage in
"The 16-year age restriction is in the Pakistan panel
code. It has nothing to do with Islamic law," he said.
"According to Islamic law, if a girl or boy has
reached puberty, they can marry."
Mansoori said that marriage in Islam is regulated by
certain rules, mainly that children must reach puberty
and maturity to get married.
However, he said, the decision of marriage should be
taken in line with the cultural, economic and social
conditions of local society.
"There is no provision of forced marriages in Islam.
This is totally unacceptable," Mansoori insisted.
He recalled that Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings
be upon him) asked for his daughter Fatima's consent
before marrying her to imam Ali.
"A Woman has the right to accept or reject marriage
proposals," Mansoori averred.
"Her consent is a prerequisite to the validity of the
marital contract, according to the Prophet's teaching.
It follows that if an "arranged marriage" means the
marrying of a female without her consent, then such a
marriage may be annulled if the female so wishes," he
"If a person classified as a child is married, when he
or she reaches the age of puberty and maturity, then
Islam gives him or her the right to choose whether to
go on with that marriage or not", he maintained.
"It's not mandatory that the day you reach puberty,
you have to get married. No, not at all. This is only
permission that now you can marry. Otherwise, this
decision should be taken in line with the
circumstances being faced by every individual."
In 2002, the then Chief Justice Irshad Hassan declared
the two notorious customs of Vani and Swara as
un-Islamic and expressed concern over the rising
number of these cases.
Vani and Swara customs are found in some parts of
Punjab and NWFP respectively under which minor girls
of a family are married to men, no matter how old they
are, of the rival family to settle down enmities and
Recently, two girls were rescued by the intervention
of the Chief Minister of Punjab.
A 17-year-old girl was about to be married to a
77-year-old man and a 16-year-old girl was about to be
married to a 55-year-old man to settle a criminal
dispute in Mianwali, a southern district of Punjab.
These marriages were arranged by four murder convicts
who saved themselves from the death penalty after
reaching an agreement with the aggrieved family to pay
a fine and hand over eight young girls as
"compensation" to the aggrieved family.
"Although there are national laws such as the Marriage
Restraint Act of 1929 and the Pakistan Penal Code that
prohibit the sale and underage marriage of girls,
these customary practices will be difficult to prevent
unless laws are rigorously implemented and those
breaching the contract are dealt with strictly under
the law," said Justice Majida.