KARACHI: Ameeran, a 16-year-old girl who became the bargaining chip for her brother to enable him to marry a girl of his choice, is among the thousands of doomed souls who have fallen victim to childhood marriages in Sindh, which has the highest ratio of the scourge in South Asia.
The real life accounts of several victims of early marriage — some as young as eight — from Jacobabad and Matiari districts have been compiled, analysed and published by the Rutgers WPF and HANDS in book form, which was launched at a programme hosted by the two organisations at a hotel.A mix of surveys, biographical titbits of victims and socio-economic analyses, the book says it is time to worry about Sindh’s much-hyped depiction as a faith-tolerant society.
It gives a brief account of Ameeran, who was forced to wed a married man. Her brother wanted to marry a girl of his choice and as a bargaining chip he offered the hand of his sister in marriage to the girl’s brother without asking for Ameeran’s consent.
After getting married, she was frequently beaten and starved, where she had no option but to leave her husband and return to her parents’ home. Her decision angered her brother, who did not allow her and her children to stay at their parents’.
“Fortunately, Ameeran was taken in by her uncle with whom she now lives. Yet she is facing difficulties in feeding her children and is unable to divorce her husband as her brother’s pressure has not subsided,” it says.
Fauzia, another victim of childhood marriage, beseeched her husband to have a break between births because she was physically unable to take the burden of pregnancies and also it was getting difficult for her to raise children. Her husband rejected her request saying the birth of a child was God’s will and that He would provide sustenance for them.
“Such ill-guided religious notions put additional economic and physical burdens on a family and costs women’s health gravely,” says the book.
It says patriarchal structure of society is strongly visible in Jacobabad and Matiari, where women play a weaker role and are made to follow whatever men decided for them.
In some cases, women who chose to fight for their freewill faced social resistance. Koomal was one such case whose resistance did not end well for her. She was forced to marry a cousin. She continued fighting against the husband and in-laws. Things took a turn for the worse when she discovered that she was pregnant. She did not want a baby of a man whom she hated.
When she saw no help around, she consumed poison to abort the foetus. Her act of defiance cost her life too.
The audience were told that Koomal was not just a single case of its kind. “So many such incidents have occurred — most of them might have not been reported as yet,” said a participant.
“Several cases have been reported in which poor girls have either committed suicide or attempted to end their lives,” said Tabinda Sarosh, a representative of Shirkatgah.
She said girls were discriminated against even before they were born — when their fates were decided by their fathers, uncles and brothers.
Rubina Qaimkhani, now provincial minister for women development, had helped draft a bill for child rights and presented it in the National Assembly, when she was an MNA in the last PPP government, but failed to get it passed.
“We could not pass it because a religious party said we were giving too much powers to children,” she said.
She lamented over the pathetic state of affairs with children — girls in particular — and said several steps were being taken by the provincial government to make things better.
Dr Qadeer Baig, country representative of the Rutgers WPF, said a bill against early marriages should soon be passed in the Sindh Assembly to curb the rising trend.
‘30pc marriages solemnised in childhood’
The audience were informed that some 30 per cent marriages in Pakistan took place before the age of 18. According to a research, in Sindh 72pc of the females in the rural areas and 36pc in the urban areas were victims of child marriages.
“These marriages are a common occurrence owing to poor economic conditions, prevailing customary practices such as Watta Satta, Pait Likhi, Chatti (betrothals at birth).”