Women Under Islam (Part Three of Four)
by Adrian Morgan
Pakistan's "Compensation Marriages"
Most Muslim marriages involve becoming firstly engaged, followed by an official
betrothal should involve partners
who are able to give consent. However, in the Indian subcontinent, there are
cases where families force children to make binding marriage vows. In
May 2006 in Rajasthan, India, a
19-year old woman was forcibly separated from her husband, whom she had married
when of legal age. The local community, supported by Muslim clerics argued that
the woman's father had married her to another child on May 8, 1990, when she was
only two years old. As local cleric Mufti Akhla-Ur-Rehman Kazmi explained:
"Though it is wrong to marry a minor, it has been done. But she has not been
divorced, how can she marry again? It is against our laws."
In Pakistan, not only do illegal child marriages sometimes occur, they happen on
the orders of village councils of elders. Under Pakistan's Muslim Family Law
Ordinance, a girl must reach 16, and a boy must reach 18, before a marriage can
take place. Both parties must give consent. Pakistan ratified the UN Convention
on the Rights of Child in 1990. In
February this year in Dera Ismail
Khan in Punjab province, a four year old girl was married to a 45-year old man.
The child had been ordered to marry as "compensation" to settle a family feud by
a local council of elders, to settle a family feud. The girl's uncle had
transgressed custom by eloping with the 45-year old man's niece.
This custom is known in Punjab and Sindh province as "vani", and in the tribal
areas of North-West Frontier province, the practice is called "swara".
Essentially it is the same in all three provinces; a tribal council (called a
panchayat in Punjab, a jirga in Sindh and NWFP) orders a male to expiate a crime
by sacrificing a girl relative in marriage. Vani marriage was outlawed at the
start of 2005 by the Pakistani government, after a case in Multan in 2004 where
a three-year old girl was married off to a 60-year old man. Muslim clerics
solemnize these marriages, and even offer dire threats to girls and their
families if they do not comply.
November 2005 a panchayat in the
village of Sultanwala in Punjab ordered that if five girls did not comply with
orders of vani marriage, they should be abducted, raped or killed. The girls had
been ordered as vani compensation in 1996, when they were aged between six and
13 years, after a male relative had shot a family rival. The girls had then been
married "in absentia" by an Islamic cleric.
Vani marriages can be ordered against girl children who have not even been born.
In Dera Ghazi Khan, Punjab on
April 7, 2006, a case of vani came
to light where a council ordered that four as-yet unborn girls from one family
should be promised as compensation for a murder committed eight years earlier.
A few days later Naheed Akhtar, a 24-year-old woman from Mianwali in Punjab,
police complaint against her father
for having her married off. She and her "groom" had been only one-year-old at
the time of the "marriage". The vani contract had been agreed in 1982, for a
murder which had happened in 1960. The woman also sued Irfan, her "husband" who
had been one at the time of the marriage. She also sued the "husband" who was
married to her elder sister as part of the vani arrangement. An imam, Maulvi
Noor Muhammad, had performed the "marriages".
In the same month (April), a jirga had
ordered a family in North-West
Frontier province to provide a girl in "swara" compensation to a family whose
daughter had eloped with one of their kin. The "guilty" family had no girl
children, so it was ordered by the jirga to purchase a girl. A 13-year old girl
was bought at a market in Peshawar for 53,000 rupees ($876). Because the girl
was emotionally distraught, she was rejected by the family.
April 17, 2006, it was reported that
two girls from Mianwali, aged 12 and 7, had been ordered as vani for an affair
carried out by their brother. The 12-year-old was to be given to a 28-year-old
man, and the 7-year-old to an 8-year-old boy. A Muslim cleric had performed a
marriage ceremony without the girls present, but no marriage papers had been
May 2006, a 9-year-old girl from
Dera Ghazi Khan petitioned to have her father sued under Islamic law for
marrying her off in a vani deal. Her brother had engaged in an affair with a
girl from the family of her "husband". Her husband, Shaukat Hussain, had forced
her to engage in sexual intercourse. The petition stated that an Islamic cleric,
Manzoor Hussain, had been bribed to falsify marriage documents to claim that she
was 18. A court petition was also launched by the girl's brother against the
cleric, the girl's "husband" and father-in-law.
Vani and swara marriages are abuses of young girls' human rights. In
May last year an 11-year-old boy was
strangled after being offered as a vani marriage partner to a family who had
earlier kidnapped his elder sister. In
June a local government minister in
Sindh province was named as one of the members of a jirga which gave a girl away
in vani marriage. Dr Sohrab Sarki of the Pakistan People's Party was a former
member of the national parliament.
The denial of a child's rights was highlighted in
June where a man from Punjab
province "sold" his 13-year-old step-daughter to one of his friends, to cover a
16,000 rupees ($266) debt. In the same month two Sindh girls, ages six and
eight, were given in marriage to cover the price of
three buffaloes. In the same month,
the highest court in Pakistan
annulled the marriage of five girls
who had been given away by the jirga attended by Sohrab Sarki. Five girls had
been involved, with the youngest being one year old, and the eldest five years.
same court also ordered an inquiry
into the "buffalo" transaction.