Pakistan: woman defies child marriage

The BBC reports Nov. 24 on the struggle of a woman known as Amna to resist village authorities in Pakistan who married her to a man from a rival clan at the age of 10 to settle a family dispute. “All I remember is that my mother cried a lot,” says Amna, now nearly 20, and one of three sisters fighting for their freedom from a tribal tradition in which they have no say.

The three—along with two cousins—were married under vani—a tribal tradition whereby disputes are settled through “marrying” girls from the offending family to men from the supposedly aggrieved clan. The marriages were ordered by a village council (jirga) in Sultanwala, Mianwali district. The custom was officially outlawed by the national government in January, but still flourishes in much of the country.

Amna’s “husband” had asked that Amna be sent to live with him when she had finished her degree. But along with her younger sisters, Abida and Sajida, she chose to resist. She has instead continued her studies, enrolling for a Master’s degree in English—a rarity for a woman in that part of the world.

But when the three sisters decided to resist, a group of men apparently sent by their “husbands” stormed Sultanwala village. The ensuing gun battle left two of their cousins seriously injured. The sisters have asked the local authorities for protection. “But to this day, we have none,” says Amna. “The men who attacked my cousins are still roaming free.”

Amna’s “marriage” was arranged after her uncle was alleged to have to murdered someone from a neighbouring clan. The aggrieved party demanded the five girls in marriage. Amna says her father was powerless at the time to stop the deal. Instead, he decided to have his girls educated in the neighboring district of Khushab so they could fight the tradition themselves.

“It was primarily his support that encouraged us to raise our voice,” amna said. “But all of us had vowed that even if our father buckled under pressure, we would rather commit suicide than to go with our husbands.”

She is harshly critical of the village maulvi (cleric) who performed the child marriage ceremony. “He should have known that Islam does not permit such practices.”

Amna’s father Jehan Khan Niazi told the BBC: “I had no option at the time I agreed to give my daughters in vani. The village council gave me only five minutes to decide and that too under the shadow of a gun. Even the maulvi told me that the only way to save our lives was to accept the decision of the jirga. Maybe I was a coward, what else can I say?”

Amna says her life and those of her family are now threatened. “But I would rather die than to succumb to this mindless and cruel custom.”

See our last post on womens’ struggles in Pakistan.