Child marriage is marital rape’
KARACHI: Aisha Munir got married to Shakoor at the tender age of 12 on the basis of “Watta Satta” (exchange). Her sister-in-law got married to her uncle Shabbir Ahmed in exchange of her marriage. Aisha is now 15 and wants a divorce because she says the Rs 2,500 she earned every month for working as a maid servant in different houses was snatched by her mother-in-law. She also had to face the brunt of verbal and physical abuse from her husband Shakoor. However, the main hindrance in her divorce is that her uncle, who now has a child, is not ready to divorce his wife.
Aisha has no child. “She can have a child if she lives with her husband. But she is living with us for the last two-and-a-half years,” says her mother Sakina. “We married her at a young age. Now we are suffering because of our folly,” she laments. “I work the whole day to feed my children but I am happy. A woman never leaves her home if she is happy,” says Sakina who hails from Khanpur, Punjab, and lives in a squatter settlement in Karachi’s lower-middle class locality of Gulistan-i-Johar. She pays Rs 500 every month as rent for the “jhuggi” she lives in and finds it difficult to make ends meet despite the fact that every one of her family members works hard.
In 1990, Pakistan ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which prohibits child marriages. In addition, under the Muslim Family Law Ordinance, a girl must have attained the age of 16, and a boy the age of 18, and both need to consent before the marriage can take place. Child marriages, however, are quite common in Pakistan.
“A marriage below 16 years is an illegal marriage and I consider it a rape,” says Justice (retired) Majida Rizvi, former chairperson, National Commission on Status of Women. “We don’t have this concept but I consider such marriages as marital rape,” she adds. “There are 12 definitions of adulthood in Pakistan and we have asked the government to evolve a single definition of adulthood and this should be 18 years,” she says.
Rasheeda Patel, president, Pakistan Women’s Lawyers Association (PAWLA), says if a girl is forced into marriage and is not old enough to consent, it classifies as marital rape but it should be kept in mind that in Pakistan a girl usually reaches puberty at the age of 13. Rape, it may be mentioned, is the act of making someone partake involuntarily in sexual acts through violence, force, threat of injury and other duress. Justice Saleem Akhter, a former judge of the Supreme Court of Pakistan agrees that child marriages are unlawful. “Children are often married for political, economic and other considerations and if the law prohibits child marriages, it should be enforced in letter and in spirit,” he says.
A report by Amnesty International says, historically, there have been no measures taken by the state to ensure that marriages are consensual and in many instances the age of a girl will be changed on her marriage certificate in order to avoid questions over her being underage. This is despite the fact that Child Marriage Restraint Act (XIX of 1929) explicitly says: “Whoever, being a male above eighteen years of age, contracts child marriage shall be punishable with simple imprisonment which may extend to one month, or with fine which may extend to one thousand rupees, or with both.” Under the Muslim Personal Law, a girl under the age of 16 years is, in view of the Child Marriage Restraint Act of 1929, incompetent to contract a marriage.
It is true that the said Act does not permit the marriage of a girl below the age of 16 years, but if any girl below the age of 16 years marries in violation of that law, the marriage itself does not become invalid on that score, although the adult husband contracting the marriage or the persons who have solemnised the marriage may be held criminally liable. But if the girl has attained puberty and marries with an adult male with her free will, the marriage is valid under Muslim Law, and the Court acting under Section 491, CrPC may permit the girl to go with her husband. “The ability of individuals to bypass the law without any fear of repercussions has also perpetuated customary practices of selling girls into ‘marriage’ in exchange for money, settling disputes with the exchange of girls known as vani or swara and the use of a girl as compensation for crimes.
While the formal laws in Pakistan do not condone these practices, the courts do little to address them, allowing informal justice systems to implement a law of their own,” says the Amnesty report. Citing a news item published by a Sindhi newspaper, the Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child (SPARK), a non-governmental organisation says in the jurisdiction of Bandi, district Nawabshah, a 12-year-old child, Suffiah, was married to her sister’s groom. It was reported that Suffiah was forcibly married in compensation.
Yet another Jirga was held in Shikarpur in Sindh in direct violation of the Sindh High Court decision involving two girls aged 6 and 8.
The Jirga passed a decision in which the failure of the girl’s father to make payment for buffaloes bought by him meant that he was ordered to hand over his daughters in compensation. Fortunately, the verdict was overruled by the SHC. The Sindh Chief Minister Dr Arbab Ghulam Rahim took note of a Jirga decision involving four girls aged between 2 and 6 given as compensation over a “karo kari” dispute. “A common opinion found in Sindh is that the tradition of Jirgas has been imported into the province from Balochistan. This is true to some extent because the Jirga system is seen in its strongest form in those districts of upper Sindh that share borders with Balochistan. These districts include Jacobabad and Shikarpur.
But now this system has not only taken all of upper Sindh in its hold but is also spreading in lower Sindh,” cautions the SPARK report. Child marriages also lead to psychological trauma. “In terms of psychology the whole event of child marriage appears to be exciting for the people living around these children but, as a matter of fact, such marriages are a form of big, diversified form of psychological trauma and amount to sexual abuse of children since the latter are neither mentally developed to give the consent to marriage nor do they understand its dynamics,” says Dr. Syed Ali Wasif, a leading psychiatrist.
Source: The News