Tuesday, April 30, 2013
Wednesday, April 24, 2013
Eight-year-old Zahida was married to Dilshad, 17, by her father Abdul Rasool in exchange for Dilshad`s sister, whom the father wanted to marry. Can anybody call this a marriage? And one can only thank the media for pointing it out, before Abdul Rasool could marry Dilshad`s sister.
This is obviously not an isolated case, and child marriages amongst children — and girls being married to adults — are a regular feature in our society. This is happening in a state whose founder introduced the Child Marriage Restraint Act 1929 as a private members bill in the British Indian Legislative Assembly. He himself married an under-18, and thus perhaps knew the hazards of such marriages.
We must also give our colonial masters the credit for introducing certain laws to protect the female segment of the populace. Female infanticide was one such custom that was prevalent in certain parts of India, and which was banned.
Girls were put to death at birth by some parents because of the possible failure to find them a husband might bring disgrace to the father.
A related custom was to marry children at a very young age. This applied equally to Hindus and Muslims. The reasons were many, including domestic and sociological causes, like desiring to perpetuate the family name by marrying the son early; by marrying the daughter early to escape the discredit caused to the family by the presence of a grown-up maiden; or by the desire of the mother to marry her son early so that she may sooner obtain possession of a daughter-in-law in whom the mother could inculcate habits of obedience and who could share the domestic chores with her.
Some even married their young daughters to the Holy Qur`an, or an idol, sword, dagger, arrow or a tree so that they may not appear unmarried to conquerors or their Creator.
Statistics with regard to child marriage are mind-boggling. According to the 1901 census, for instance, 121,500 boys and 243,500 girls under the age of five years were married. Between the ages of five and 10 years the figures were 760,000 and 2,030,000 respectively.
There were no less than 1,277,000 widowed persons under 20 years of age in 1901, of whom 914,000 were females; of these, 6,000 widowers and 96,000 widows were less than five years of age; 37,000 widowers and 96,000 widows between five and 10 years of age and 113,000 widowers and 276,000 widows between 10 and 15 years of age.
Read more at: http://archives.dawn.com/archives/104536
In 2011, the United Nations General Assembly agreed to designate October 11, every year, as the International Day of the Girl Child. The day is being observed globally for the first time this year to create awareness of the situation of the girl child and ensure greater efforts are made to improve their lives. The theme this year is ‘my life, my right, end child marriage’.
The launch of this joint statement reflects the United Nations commitment to prevent child marriage, which directly affects Pakistan’s ability to achieve six of the eight millennium development goals.
Speaking on the occasion, the UNICEF Representative in Pakistan, Dan Rohrmann, emphasised that early marriage violates the right to health, education, recreation, protection and other social and economic rights of girls and young women.
Read more at: http://www.unicef.org/pakistan/media_7940.htm
“We call upon all members of the community to rally against the marriage of children and teenagers. Media institutions should also play a bigger role in defending children and their rights.”
Tuesday, April 23, 2013
Huma came to Women for Afghan Women (WAW) three years ago when she was only 19 years old. When she was 14, her family arranged her marriage and a formal engagement took place. Her fiancé, Saif Allah, often visited her after the engagement. One day, he arrived with blood all over his clothes. He proceeded to take Huma to his home, even though a wedding had not yet taken place. Huma and her mother were screaming but he just dragged her off by force. He kept her there for two months, during which time he raped and tortured her. Eventually, a wedding took place. To listen to Huma recount about her life with Saif Allah is to hear a litany of terrible violence against her, her mother, sister, and even against Saif Allah’s own relatives.
Saif Allah is a Taliban fighter and an unstable sadist. Over the years he tortured Huma in unimaginable ways. He hung her up by her hair and stuck hot pokers in her body. He broke her legs and ripped out her finger nails. She has photos of the original wounds and scars. During this time the only happiness Huma knew was when she had two sons. Her love for her sons carried her through this dark time.
After one violent incident, Saif Allah’s family took Huma to the hospital. She was discharged back to her own family's home. Saif Allah’s brothers came there and asked her to return. They promised to take care of her and promised that they wouldn’t let Saif Allah repeat the terrible violence. Saif Allah also promised to begin a new life with her. Huma trusted them and went with them again. She soon realized she had made a terrible mistake because nothing had changed. Saif Allah started beating her immediately. He told her, "your mother and sister should come here right now, otherwise I will kill you." Helplessly, Huma informed her mother and she came with her younger sister. Saif Allah beat all three women within inches of their lives. Her mother and sister escaped leaving Huma to fend for herself.
Saif Allah was so furious about Huma’s mother and sister’s escape that he beat Huma to the point that she lost an eyelid, and he bit her arms. Her sister-in-law told her that Saif Ali was planning to kill her and that he and his brother had dug a grave for her body somewhere. Huma decided that she couldn’t take it anymore. She knew of an organization which was helping widows. She decided to risk her life and have a chance at safety and freedom by telling her husband a lie. She said that her mother would be at the widows’ organization waiting for her. Huma asked him to take her there. Saif Allah took her to the organization. Upon arrival, he received a phone call. He said that he had urgent work and had to leave. He instructed her to return home with her mother and sister. As soon as he left, the staff of the widows'organization asked Huma if she would like to be taken to the police station. They immediately sensed her extreme danger and saw the abuse that had been piled on her. She eagerly accepted. The Chief of the 6th Police District took Huma to a hospital. Her injuries required that she stay for 45 days. Hospital staff understood that she needed to be discharged to a safe location and she was a taken to Women for Afghan Women’s shelter.
It took almost two years for our lawyers to get Huma a divorce because Saif Allah wouldn't show up in court. He continued to make endless threats against Huma’s family, especially her mother. Like her daughter, she had to flee and leave the family village and hide in Kabul.
Huma now lives in Kabul with her mother and is trying to rebuild their lives. WAW has hired her and she now earns a respectable salary working for us. She manages the emergency shelter in our Kabul Family Guidance Center, where we house women temporarily. These women either get transferred to our secret women’s shelter or get reunited with their families, depending on their particular circumstances. Huma is famous at WAW for the boundless kindness and gentleness with which she treats all the women who stay at our Center and everyone she encounters. She never attended school before coming to WAW but is now taking literacy courses and has plans for more education or vocational training. She has not seen her sons since she ran away and may never see them again. This is the part she can't overcome and may never be able to. She becomes hysterical, even hyperventilates when she thinks of them or when anyone brings them up. In Afghanistan women must often give up their children if they leave their abusers. Divorce Courts are legislatively required to award the children to the fathers.
Justice in Pakistan's tribal border areas is a contested issue.
"We are quite clear what justice is. If someone kills, commits adultery or some other offence, they deserve to die," said Javaid Khan of the Utman Khel tribe in Bajaur Agency, one of seven tribal agencies (districts) along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.
Talking to IRIN from the town of Khar in Bajaur, he said "tribal justice" was practised in the country, and killings had been carried out following verdicts delivered by `jirgas' (gatherings of unelected tribal elders).
He did not see these as extra-judicial killings or a violation of the law, saying: "We have our own means to keep order here… Yes, over the years, killings have been carried out on `jirga' orders - for murder, adultery or other offences."
Traditional justice is strong in many of these areas - but that comes at the expense of universally accepted legal rights, say campaigners.
"The `jirga' may offer justice in some cases, but there are flaws and there is evidence that the will of powerful tribal elders holds sway over the less influential," Asad Jamal, a Lahore-based lawyer, told IRIN. The less influential, he said, "would include women".
The `jirga' courts are a community-based form of justice, deciding right and wrong in areas where national official judicial structures are out of reach.
Their power is particularly strong in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), which are only covered by limited parts of the Pakistan Penal Code and the 1973 constitution.
Instead, FATA operates under the Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR) of 1901: colonial-era laws that condone collective punishments and lack a right of appeal or trial by jury.
Those who campaign against the justice of `jirgas', say they often deliver injustice, in part because women have so little power over their decisions.
"Since women are not represented on the `jirgas', verdicts often go against them," Samar Minallah Khan, a human rights activist and documentary film-maker who has worked extensively in Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa Province (KP), told IRIN from Islamabad.
The hold of tradition and "traditional justice" extends beyond the more legally autonomous tribal belts.
Minallah said women in KP were "frequently produced before jirgas", most often in cases of `swara' or "marriages of exchange", where they were handed over to an aggrieved party to settle a dispute, including murder or other crime. "Under-age girls are often produced before jirgas by their fathers in such cases," Minallah said.
The `jirgas' often help reinforce discrimination against women, which can be particularly acute in rural areas in the north.
In the remote Kohistan District of KP where, technically speaking at least, national law applies, three men were shot dead in January this year as a result of a long-standing tribal feud involving allegations their brothers had mingled with unrelated women.
"In Kohistan, the ease with which people are willing to kill women, often on `jirga' orders, is shocking. It is just something completely acceptable to them," said Farzana Bari, chairperson of the Women's Study Centre at Quaid-e-Azam University in Islamabad and a well-known women's rights activist who headed a Supreme Court inquiry into the case.
"The ease with which people are willing to kill women, often on `jirga' orders, is shocking", Farzana Bari, Women's Study Centre, Quaid-e-Azam University "In our culture men and women unrelated to each other are not permitted to mingle at all," Nazir Kohistani, a businessman who now lives in Peshawar but has origins in Besham, Kohistan, told IRIN. He said he had moved to Peshawar when his three daughters were infants "so they could be educated and lead a normal life."
Women's rights curtailed
Maryum Bibi, head of the Peshawar-based NGO Khwendo Kor (Sisters' Home, in Pashto), which promotes the education and empowerment of women, told IRIN: "Such traditions, and the power of `jirgas' hold back women - preventing even their education, as well as other rights."
A survey by the Islamabad-based NGO Sustainable Policy Development Institute (SDPI) conducted in six KP districts and Punjab Province, the results of which were released to the media last month, found a large proportion of men in both provinces believed that there were situations in which it was necessary to use physical violence against women, and that banning violence was a "Western concept".
Nevertheless, SDPI's monitoring and evaluation team said that traditional `jirga' courts still had a degree of popularity in the surveyed areas.
"It is difficult to change established ways," said Shandana Bibi* who now lives in Peshawar, but hails from Mohmand Agency. "We as women can only try, but despite my efforts I have been unable to persuade my husband to allow our two daughters to study beyond grade five."
She says she will need to "fight hard" to allow her daughters to receive even vocational training in sewing or embroidery, and the right to leave their home to receive the training.
Businessman Kohistani says he has come up against the same issues. He told IRIN: "In areas such as ours, there are women who never, ever leave the four walls of their home, simply moving from the home of their parents to that of their husbands. I did not want my daughters, or my two sons, to grow up in such a culture, and therefore I escaped it."
However, escape is not possible for most. Nor do they necessarily wish to abandon old ways.
"We live as are grandfathers and great grandfathers did, we keep to our own ways as tribesmen; we believe life must follow tradition so we preserve our culture - and we are proud of the morality that comes with this," said Javaid Khan from Bajaur.
He says his main concern is to "keep change away since it will worsen, not improve our lives, ruining morality, especially for women, who need to be modest and kept away from public life."