Saneeda was given away by her father in marriage to a much older person to end a feud that might well have taken the father’s life. Saneeda was five and did not know about the twist her fate had taken. Saneeda’s father had eloped with a girl from another village in Swat. The only way to avoid a bloody revenge was to barter his ‘honour’ with the ‘honour’ of his lover’s family. Such swaps of honour are common in the tribal culture in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The practice of offering young girls to settle disputes is called swara in Swat. Since no official data is kept for such practices, the exact figure of swara incidents is not known. However, according to human right activists, the practice has become more prevalent instead of subsiding with time. There were some 132 cases around Pakistan in 2012, while in Swat alone some nine incidents have been recorded in 2013. Luckily Saneeda was saved by her mother who managed to report the decision of the tribal jirga to the police and its timely intervention resulted in the arrest of her father and the jirga members. But not every girl is as lucky as Saneeda, and not every mother could gather up the courage to stand up to the authorities, both traditional and formal, to seek justice. The other girl from her clan who was also given away in swara could not be saved. Much of the credit goes to the media for bringing awareness to a mother about this illegal practice. This highlights the necessity of having an enlightened education system and alert media so that people are made aware that such practices are abhorrent.
The Marriage Act prohibits child marriage, which defines the legally marriageable age as 18 years for boys and 16 years for girls. The police and the prosecution therefore have the required power to abolish such practices. However, sad to say, the law is practiced more in the breach. The Punjab Assembly had passed a law against swara during Pervez Elahi’s government. Such a law is required even more in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. It must however be kept in mind that simply having these laws on the statute books is not enough, they have to be implemented in letter and spirit. The Kohistan case of the murder of some women seen dancing and clapping in a video is another reminder that there are millions of girls who have suffered and could suffer on the altar of these medieval notions of false honour. It is the combination of justice, awareness and education that may help purge Pakistan of such heinous crimes against women.