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=> * Clan elder, schoolteachers say they tried to sto

* Clan elder, schoolteachers say they tried to stop marriage, but failed
* Families happy with match
* Okara DPO not informed about incident
* NGOs say nikah illegal and not registered at union council concerned

LAHORE: A nine-year-old girl was allegedly forced to marry her 35-year-old physically handicapped cousin to settle a gambling debt.

The incident took place in Akhtarabad near Okara on Tuesday. The husband is the girl’s cousin and cannot hear or speak. The girl’s father owed gambling money to his sister-in-law’s husband and in exchange married off his daughter to his sister-in-law’s son.

The two families claim that the wedding was consensual and that the girl was 14 years old. However, upon investigation, Daily Times found that the girl’s birth certificate stated her year of birth as 1998.

Since no compliant was lodged with the police, the district police officer has not registered a case. All he knows is that the girl is 14 years old and that the two parties involved are happy with the marriage.

Nine-year-old Safia is Abdul Ghafoor’s daughter. She lives with her family in Chak 33-1 Akhtarabad. Safia was forced to marry 35-year-old Abbas Azam, son of Mumammad Azam.

Muhammad Zahid, who lives next to the girl, said Safia studied in Grade II at a government school and had stopped going to school a week before her ‘wedding’.

Her schoolteachers said Safia had come crying to them a couple of days ago, asking them to stop her parents from forcing her to marry her distant cousin. They quoted her as saying that she would kill herself if nobody stopped her forced marriage.

One of the teachers said he called her parents, but they ignored him. He said Safia’s family threatened the schoolteachers if they did not let go of the issue.

Sattar Din, an elder of the clan Safia belongs to, told Daily Times that Abdul Ghafoor and Muhammad Azam were compulsive gamblers and that Ghafoor had lost a lot of money to Azam and had agreed to marry his daughter to Azam’s son as payment. He said Azam’s son also owned five acres of land.

He said Safia resisted, but her parents beat her and forced her into the marriage. He said Safia was kept at Azam’s house for the past two nights and was subjected to assault hence forcing her to except the marriage. Sattar Din said he tried to stop the marriage, but was ignored.

However, Saeedan, the groom’s mother, said they were aware of the Shariah and that Safia was 14 years old and eligible for marriage. She said Safia was her sister’s daughter and that the whole clan agreed to the marriage.

Azam, who manages an NGO called Ehsas Welfare Society, said he told the union council concerned about the issue and asked officials not to register the nikah, as it was illegal.

Fauzia Chughtai, who managed an NGO called Nida Welfare Society, said an unidentified imam of Chak 32 performed the nikah without having it registerd with the union council concerned. She said Ehsas Welfare Society and Nida Welfare Society had also informed the police about the incident, but no case was registered against the two families.

Okara DPO Faran Beg told Daily Times that he had not received any complaint about the marriage and therefore he could not register a case against anyone. He said he had ordered an inquiry into the incident only after reading about it in the newspaper.

He said the duty officer had told him that the girl was 13 to 14 years old and that she was already married to Abbas Azam, but the issue was over her rukhsati.

He said that keeping in mind the hype created by the media he had advised the girl’s family not to perform the rukhsati yet.
Source: Daily Times