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Pakistan: Early Marriage Scars Pakistani Children

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  • Zafar Khan
    Early Marriage Scars Pakistani Children By Aamir Latif, IOL Correspondent Sun. May. 27, 2007
    Message 1 of 1 , May 30, 2007
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      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
      with tears.

      "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
      early divorce."

      The expert also notes that with a big age difference,
      the chances of becoming a widow at a younger age is
      more likely.

      "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.
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