Despite having seen the elevation of women at the helm of important affairs, from judges to the Prime Minister House, Pakistan has yet not been able to cease the brutal traditions of the past that define women as nothing more than articles of trade and possession. These traditions range from Karokari [The killing of women in the name of 'honour', existing in the remote villages of Pakistan. Once labeled as a Kari, male family members get the self-authorized justification to kill her and the co-accused Karo to restore family honor] to “Nikah with the Quran” and the customs of child marriages known as Vani and Sawara. This custom is tied to blood feuds among the different tribes and clans where the young girls are forcibly married to the members of different clans in order to resolve the feuds.
In countless rural villages, centuries old customs like Sawara and Vani are the forced marriage of girls to resolve conflicts and feuds generated through murders. These decisions are often made by a jirga or panchayat who are a council of elders from the community who convene an informal court to decide methods for resolving disputes.
Vani’ is a Pashto word derived from ‘Vanay’ which stands for blood. This custom was common in Pashtoon families and was considered an act of goodwill to end often prolonged quarrel or state of enmities.
It is reputed that the custom of Vani, began almost 400 years ago when two ‘Pathan’ tribes of Mianwali fought a bloody war against each other. During this, around 800 people were murdered and to resolve the rising tension and taut relations between the two tribes, the Nawab of that time called the ‘Jirga’ who decreed that females from both sides should be given as ‘Qisas’. Since then, Vani has become as a social routine in Mianwali and neighboring areas.
In Mianwali, not only adult women but even infant girls are not spared by being frequently handed over to men or slaughtered for the compensation of crimes done by their fathers or brothers. According to this custom female members from the offending male’s family are married or handed over to the victim’s family as an act of rectification or indemnification.
Giving women as Vani for marriage purposes to the enemy to mollify them is not only against the Universal Declaration of Human Rights but in clear conflict with the teachings of Islam. Islam categorically forbids all marriages made under any kind of compulsion. The Holy Prophet (PBUH) has at many instances dissolved such marriages. These marriages were known as ‘Sabaya’ in the days of Jahiliya (ignorance).
Pakistan is a signatory to the 1990 UN Convention on the Rights of the Child as well as a later UN Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) signed in 1996:
Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW):
Article.16: State parties shall take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against woman in all matters relating to marriage and family relations and in particular shall ensure, on a basis of equally of men and women:
1- The same right to enter into marriage;
2- The same right freely to choose a spouse and to enter into marriage only with their free and full consent;
3- The same right and responsibilities during marriage and its dissolution;
In a country like ours where the levels of poverty and inflation reach a new high everyday, economic hardship has forced people to revert to such nefarious custom for support and help: selling their young daughters into marriage as a means of earning money or settle debts. Bride prices range from Rs. 80,000 to Rs. 200,000 .These sales are not legal and are not done with the consent of the girl. In some cases the decision is made by one member of the family without consulting any other members.
In March 2004, the Law and Justice Commission came out with a draft amendment to the Pakistan Penal Code seeking to penalize the act of offering or accepting a woman against her free will, or any child in marriage by way of compensation. It estimated that 30 percent of all marriages fall into the category of child marriage.
UNFPA states the rights that are guaranteed by the Convention on the Rights of the Child, denied to girls due to early marriages:
• The right to education (Article 28).
• The right to be protected from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, including sexual abuse.
• The right to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health
• The right to educational and vocational information and guidance.
• The right to rest and leisure, and to participate freely in cultural life.
• The right to not be separated from their parents against their will.
In 2009 alone, 895 cases of child marriages were reported from different parts of Pakistan. Statistics also reveal that child marriages are more prevalent in interior Sindh than in other parts of Pakistan.
The Marriage Restraint Act of 1929 and Pakistan Penal Code (articles 310 & 338-E) debar the sale and marriage of underage girls, it is without any speck of doubt, that these traditions will only be curtailed and bridled when they are unequivocal and unambiguously outlawed and made enjoined by implementing stringent measures and meting out rigorous punishment to those who support, practice, endorse or defend it. The judiciary and police can play a pivotal role in this matter with the Judiciary making laws against such customs and ensuring the implementation of those by the police, only then will we be able to dispel this curse of Vani and Sawara and uphold the rights and protection of women who deserve the right to live.
- Hafsa Khawaja
* Picture courtesy Flickr.