Forced child marriages on the rise in Pakistan | Asia| An in-depth look at news from across the continent | DW | 28.03.2012
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Forced child marriages on the rise in Pakistan

The centuries-old custom of forced child marriages, or wani, goes unchecked in Pakistan despite protests by human rights organizations and some legislators.

"They forced me to marry this guy. I did not want to marry him. My uncle beat me up so badly that he fractured my shoulder," a fifteen-year-old girl told DW on condition of anonymity.

I interviewed this girl in Sukkur, a city in the southern Pakistani province of Sindh, in a crisis center for women. She was with her mother and was visibly devastated.

"My husband also beat me. He used to beat me even before our marriage. It was tormenting for my mother to look at me in this condition, so she brought me to this place. I never thought I would come to a women's crisis center," she said.

Child marriage, or wani, is being practiced in many parts of Pakistan, particularly in the rural Sindh, the Punjab, and the country's northwestern tribal areas. The feuding tribes or clans exchange blood money or women to settle disputes.

According to the girl, her cousin had killed a member of another clan. She said the panchayat (non-government local courts) ruled that one of the girls from her family would be handed over to the victim's clan as compensation. Since his uncle had no daughter, her father married her off to one of the men of the enemy clan - a 40-year-old drug addict.

The girl was abused by her in-laws, particularly by her husband. The girl's mother filed a criminal case against her daughter's in-laws. It was the police which sent the girl and her mother to one of the shelters for women. They have been there for two months now.

A punishable crime

Eleven-year-old Anita poses for a photograph after her marriage ceremony in India

Child marriages are also common in Indian and other South Asian countries

The girl's case is already being heard by the court. She told DW that she wanted to go back to live with her father but she still feared for her life.

"My father now says that I should return home and that he won't do any harm to me. I will only go back if my father and other elders of the family guarantee my safety. I am very scared."

According to Pakistani law, marrying off children is a punishable crime. Despite that, the practice is common in Pakistan, and girls as young as seven or eight are the victims of this custom.

The Pakistani police reported 36 cases of forced child marriages and 23 separate cases of young girls exchanged in the first quarter of 2011.

Zehra Shah, a police official in Sukkur, told DW that a lot of wani victims sought help from the police. "We receive a lot of complaints. Recently, we came to know about a case where an underage girl was forced into marriage. We raided the house and arrested the people involved. Our law and religion do not permit forced marriages," she said.

Recently, the Pakistani government amended the law dealing with forced marriage, making the punishments for wani harsher. Despite that, the tradition of wani lives strong.

Author: Unbreen Fatima / ss
Editor: Sarah Berning

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