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Tradition deals girls a losing hand in life

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    Tradition deals girls a losing hand in life NZ Herald 9-3-07 PAKISTAN: Daughter lost in card game in society where women treated like slaves KARACHI—When
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 8, 2007
      Tradition deals girls a losing hand in life NZ Herald 9-3-07

      PAKISTAN: Daughter lost in card game in society where 'women treated like slaves'

      KARACHI—When she was one, Rasheeda Begum's late father promised to marry her off to a relative to settle a poker debt. Fifteen years later, the man came calling to collect his winnings. The teenager's fight to escape being handed over despite threats to her family is the latest case highlighting how women's rights in Pakistan are still threatened by traditional customs.

      "I am not this man's queen of hearts. I would prefer death if I cannot protect myself or my pride," Begum said from Hyderabad. "When I was about 10, my mother told me what had happened. But, even then, I could not believe my father could have committed such a crime." Begum's mother, Nooran Begum, said her late husband was a gambler and lost a card game with Lal Haider in 1992, promising to settle the debt of 10,000 rupees ($243) with his daughter. 

      Nooran Begum said she paid off the debt several years ago after her husband's death. Recently, however, Haider started visiting their house and demanding custody of her daughter, saying it was his right under ancient tribal customs. Rasheeda Begum said his friends had started turning up outside their house and threatening them. Haider had said he would kidnap her and take her to the mountains of southwest Baluchistan province. "We are poor people and can't defend ourselves on our own. We cannot leave our house," says her uncle, Dur Mohammad, who lives with the two women.

      The government of Sindh province says it has ordered the arrest of several
      suspects in connection with the case and ordered authorities to protect the
      family. "It's barbaric to sell a girl," said spokesman Salahuddin Haider. But rights groups and politicians say Rasheeda Begum's case—and a string of other recent similar incidents —shows the wider problems women still have to overcome in Pakistan - an Islamic republic of 150 million people.

      In January, police arrested six men who allegedly raped a teenage girl and made her parade naked through a village in Sindh in a so called "honour punishment" for acting immorally.

      Around the same time, two lovers were tied to a tree and stoned to death for adultery by relatives in central Punjab province.

      Then, in February, another girl was allegedly raped by four men, again in Sindh, and two women in the same province were hacked to death by close relatives who suspected tbem of flirt ing with neighbours.

      Finally, on February 20, a hardline Islamist cleric shot Punjab provincial minister Zilla Huma Usman in the head at a public meeting because she did not wear a veil.

      It later emerged that her killer, Mohammad Sarwar, had escaped trial despite confessing in 2003 to killing four prostitutes.

      "This is all a reflection of a strong and deep-rooted feudal society, where women are treated as slaves," says Zia Awan, a senior lawyer who provides legal aid to women and children.

      The independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan said in its annual report last month that there were 565 honour killings in Pakistan in 2006, nearly double the number in 2005.

      This year, four major cases of gang rape have been reported, says leg~ lator Hummera Alawani, from the Pakistan People's Party of Benazir Bhutto, the country's first—and only —female prime minister.

      As a member of an organisation called Gender for Justice "we wil1 look into Rasheeda's case".

      But while official intervention should save Rasheeda Begum from an unwanted marriage, the pain of her ordeal remains."I am really ashamed that I was born in such a society," she said. —AFP

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