A nine-year-old girl in Pakistan has been forced to marry a man of 24 to punish her father for eloping with a neighbour’s daughter.
Nazia Nawaz, who lives in the village of Babrianwala in rural Punjab, described last week how a mob of 30 men, led by a mullah and the local council, stormed her family home and demanded that she and her seven-year-old sister marry two male relatives to settle the dispute.
The forced marriage of Nazia to her adult cousin had just been completed when other family members arrived to stop the wedding of her younger sister, Shazia.
This weekend human rights campaigners in Pakistan criticised successive governments for failing to stamp out the system of village justice known as vani, which is common throughout remote areas of Punjab.
The case emerged when Nazia and her mother made a public statement seeking protection from the man she had been forced to marry.
Her mother, Anwar Bibi, said the dispute began last year when her husband fell in love with his cousin and married her. “My husband developed relations with his cousin, Shamim Bibi, about three months ago. Her father, Muhammad Yar, said Shamim had been abducted and started pressurising me to give my two girls in return.”
Yar demanded that her two daughters be given in marriage to his two adult sons, one of whom was 30 years old and already married with a child.
Villagers said Yar’s sons had planned to take the girls and rape them to punish their father, Rab Nawaz.
Police have arrested 20 men in connection with the ceremony, including Yar and his two sons. The local police chief, Ghulam Mustafa Pahure, said the marriage was in breach of a women’s rights act that came into force last year.
Nazia’s father, whose elopement ignited the family feud, said he had no regrets. “I married for love and we want to stay together, and for this I’m prepared to pay any price,” he declared.
A report published last week by Pakistan’s Human Rights Commission (HRC) revealed widespread sexual violence against women, often in attacks sanctioned by village councils. In 2007 the commission discovered 354 cases of gang rape, 377 rapes and 21 cases where women were stripped naked as a family punishment.
Pakistan has faced condemnation for its failure to protect rural women in a number of high-profile cases in the past two years. Muktaran Mai and Ghazala Shaheen were both gang-raped by village elders to punish their families for alleged crimes committed by male relatives.
The HRC report highlights four cases of forced child marriage in the past year but campaigners say it is rare for victims to come forward.
In one landmark case a former defence minister was found to have been part of a jirga, or community council, that ordered five daughters of a man accused of murder to be handed over to the victim’s family. The youngest was two years old.
Source: The Times – 30 March 2008