Pakistani Daily Reports – ‘Child Marriages: 10 Year-Old Girls Traded for Rs. 100,000 [Approximately $1,150]’
RSN Editors Note: The prophet Muhammadmarried a 9 year old girl and , so the practice continues today – what outcry do you hear from women’s rights groups or other advocacy groups supporting children’s rights. How many of thiese children are actually being forced (raped) into marriage?
On November 29, 2010, police officials in the Pakistani town of Sheikhupura raided a wedding hall and arrested the bridegroom and wedding guests as the marriage of a six year-old girl, Uzma, was being performed. Bilal Zafar, a local police officer, confirmed the arrest of Maulvi Ghaus, the cleric who was performing the marriage, as well as the 23 year-old bridegroom. Zafar stated, “we received a tip-off about the marriage but it took us a while to find the place as the wedding was being conducted in secret.”
The incident drew an angry response from a newspaper reader, who wrote: “Surely this is a sign of pedophilia; how else does one justify a man in his 20s marrying a girl who is just six years-old? Why are we as a society so tolerant of such barbaric and medieval practices?” It seems that a large number of child marriages are taking place in Pakistan, especially in the rural areas of Sindh province, though only a few such cases are actually reported by the Pakistani media.
Sujag Sansar Organization, a children’s rights charity working in the Dadu district of Sindh province, carried out a survey last year to assess the views of local families in six villages of the district. The organization believes the views of these families to be representative of the entire province. According to the survey’s findings, some of the reasons for child marriages are: the tribal system of Watta Satta (exchange of brides between families), which is believed to be a key factor; financial reasons; and families’ belief that underage marriage is not wrong. In addition, the survey notes that elders also arrange marriages of boys at young ages due to a lack of education and recreational facilities 
In the Dadu district a local journalist was found dead last year after reporting on the marriage of a young girl. A newspaper reader argued recently that child marriages are taking place because government officials are not implementing the provisions of the Child Marriage Restraint Act [of] 1929, which dictates: (1) Punishment for a male adult above 18 years of age for marrying a female child under 16 years of age; (2) punishment for performing such a child marriage; and (3) punishment for negligently failing to prevent the performance of a child marriage.
The Express Tribune, a Pakistani newspaper that has focused on this issue, recently published a report titled, “Child Marriages: 10 Year-Old Girls for Rs. 100,000,” highlighting the issue of underage marriages in Pakistan.
Following are excerpts from the report:
“Little Girls Dressed up in Bridal Gowns and Jewellery are Too Often Married Off to Men Much Older than Them”
“It might look like child’s play but little girls dressed up in bridal gowns and jewellery are too often married off to men much older than them in a terrifying aspect of reality. Some parents may marry them off because they have no money or give their hands in marriage to settle disputes. Other motivating factors include family politics or inheritance battles [especially among the landed feudal class].
“While the exact number of cases remains unknown, it can be regarded as a common phenomenon with roughly 58 percent taking place in rural and 27 percent in urban areas [of Pakistan].
“Among the provinces, Sindh tops the list. The Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child (SPARC), an NGO that focused specifically on the issue this year [in 2010], reported that around 50 cases of child marriage were noted in Sindh alone… The NGO, which thwarted 18 attempted child marriages with successful intervention, has been working on [closing] the loopholes in the laws governing the offense.
“In March of this year, 10 year-old Shazia was traded by her mother Zahooran for 100,000 Pakistani Rupees [approximately $1,150]. The groom, a resident of Bhangho Behan village in Khairpur [district of Sindh], who ‘bought’ his young wife, said it was their custom. At least six other girls in the neighboring villages had been married off in a similar manner, he maintained.
“In another instance, Koonj and Asma, six and seven years-old, respectively, were married to two men of an aggrieved party in Dadu to pacify the dispute over free-will marriages…”
Child Rights Activist Sohail Ahmed Abro: “Many People in Sindh Consider Early Marriages a Cultural Tradition”
“Sohail Ahmed Abro, provincial manager of SPARC, discussed the observations made by his NGO. According to the Child Marriage Restraint Act [of] 1929, child marriage is not a cognizable offense, which means that the police cannot intervene directly [i.e. without a complaint being filed by someone]. Also, there remains a disparity in the legal ages at which girls and boys can be married. According to the law, girls who are 16 years and older and boys 18 years and older can be married legally.
“Abro said that when the police intervene in such cases, they usually arrest the ‘legal perpetrators’ who are committing the child marriage – i.e. both the bride and the groom. These young boys and girls, however, are the victims. Being sent to jail or a protection institution is hardly justice…
“Also, the penalty for the crime is a meager imprisonment of one month and a fine of 1,000 Pakistani Rupees [about $11]… ‘Many people in Sindh consider early marriages a cultural tradition,’ he added. However, the offense is also prevalent in other provinces but the issue remains in the background because these cases are not brought out by the media.
“Pakistan has the Muslim Family Law as well as the Child Marriage Restraint Act of 1929 on its statute books. Moreover, the country also became a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of Children in 1990, in which early marriage refers to the marriage of people less than 18 years of age. The government’s adherence to the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), should also have served as a deterrent against child marriages. These promises and laws, however, remain on paper, with little or no implementation.
“SPARC launched its campaign against child marriages simultaneously in nine districts of Sindh, which include Jacobabad, Shikarpur, Sukkur, Khairpur, Naushehro Feroz, Nawabshah, Larkana, Kambar-Shahdadkot and Dadu, where the custom is most prevalent. Child rights committees have initiated a dialogue in all these districts and are organizing seminars, walks and press briefings to spread awareness…”
 The Express Tribune (Pakistan), November 30, 2010.
 The Express Tribune (Pakistan), December 1, 2010.
 The Express Tribune (Pakistan), November 20, 2010.
 The Express Tribune (Pakistan), November 20, 2010.
 The Express Tribune (Pakistan), December 2, 2010.
 The Express Tribune (Pakistan), December 21, 2010. The text of the report has been lightly edited for clarity.