Monday, June 24, 2013

Trading a 13-year-old daughter for a new wife. Rangina, Afghanistan

Rangina’s mother died when she was 12. In 2003, at the age of 13 she was forcibly married in abadaal (exchange) marriage as her father wanted to acquire a new wife. According to Rangina, the man that she was forced to marry had mental health problems.
“I was my father’s only daughter, so when my mother died and he wanted a new wife he gave me away in exchange. The man he gave me to was mentally ill. I did not want to marry him, but I had no choice. My father did not listen, and my mother was dead. My father thought only about his new marriage, not about me, his daughter.”
Rangina says that her in-laws verbally and physically abused her:
“All the family members were beating me, and calling me names. I was so miserable. My husband couldn’t speak properly, so I didn’t understand what he was saying. My mother-in-law would always say to me, “You are worthless—see how little your father cared about you—he married you to my son, and he is like this, he is mentally ill.”
My father thought only about his new marriage, not about me, his daughter.After one year, Rangina ran away. Despite coming from a remote and highly conservative area of eastern Afghanistan, she managed to journey to the capital, a perilous trip for a young woman to make alone. She made contact with the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, who arranged for her to stay in a shelter. Her husband’s family found out, and came to Kabul to demand her return. She told us,
“They came and asked for me to come back. I said no, they kept coming. I always say no. I don’t want to go back. I can’t go back. They want to kill me.”
An official who wishes to remain anonymous told Human Rights Watch that the family discovered the location of the shelter and made threats against her and her staff. The family enlisted the support of various powerful regional political figures to pressure the government to return Rangina to them. A delegation of elders from her province, with the backing of various senators and members of parliament, called on the Ministry of Women’s Affairs to return her. The Ministry of Interior also supported their efforts, despite the illegality of her marriage under Afghan law.
The case was even debated in parliament, where a majority of MPs who spoke did so in favor of Rangina being returned to her husband’s family. Some MPs also called for the Ministry of Women’s Affairs to be closed because it was encouraging girls to run away from home. The director of the shelter says that the debate became very personalized:
“In parliament they named me, they said I was hiding her, and that I wasn’t Muslim, I was Western, I was working for foreigners, for foreign ideas. They got 500 signatures against shelters, against me, against the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, and took it to the president.”
The lobbying attempts of the husband’s family culminated in a meeting that included representatives from the Office of the President, the Ministry of Interior, the Supreme Court, parliamentary representatives, and the Ministry of Women’s Affairs.
President Karzai became directly involved. Instead of ensuring protection for Rangina and enforcement of Afghanistan’s marriage law, he urged Rangina to trust her husband’s family when they promised they would not harm her. Rangina refused and said:
“I told Karzai that if he was so confident then he could send his wife or daughter to my village instead of me.”
The cousin of Rangina’s husband, Haji Munowar Khan, led the campaign to have her returned. He told a BBC reporter that Rangina would not be returned to her husband against her will, and she could instead be given to one of his brothers:
“We don’t want our woman to be in Kabul, we can’t allow her to have another husband. We’re not foreigners–we’re not Russians–we’re not unbelievers, we’re Muslims, and we are Pashtuns, and for Pashtuns three things matter–our religion, our women, and our country. To defend these three things we will give up our lives. We’ve promised we won’t do anything to her, and if she comes back to our village we’ll promise again, we won’t harm her at all.”
Rangina has now been living in a shelter for five years. Her attempts to gain a legal separation from her husband, which began in 2007, have so far been unsuccessful. Rangina’s husband has repeatedly failed to appear in court, which under the civil code can be grounds for granting a woman a separation. However, there has still been no resolution.
In August 2007, the Supreme Court accepted a request to have the case heard by the Family Court in Kabul on the grounds that her life could be endangered if she traveled to her home province. However, the Family Court demanded witnesses to prove that she suffered abuse and that her husband was mentally ill. Nobody from her home province agreed to testify on her behalf, because of fear of retribution from the husband’s family in the region. No witness protection program exists. Rangina said:
“I don’t like the courts or the judges. Whenever I go there they say, “Why did you run away? Why did you do this, why you do that?” And now they ask for evidence even though they know I cannot give it to them. It is too dangerous.”
According to a human rights worker connected to the case, the Family Court wants to delay a decision and wait for a presidential intervention:
“The judges are supportive, but they are too afraid to take responsibility because they have no security. There will be danger for the judge if she takes a decision.”
“Nobody wants to come to support her. They are saying that her husband is a good man, and he gave her clothes, food, medicine. They say she’s a bad lady to leave her home, she’s not a good lady.”
When asked why the court could not provide a separation on the grounds that the marriage had been illegal in the first place, since Rangina was underage and forced to marry, the judge said:
“She was 13 when she married this person. This was against our law. But if she didn’t want to marry her husband then she should have come to us at that time and made her objections. Instead she stayed with him for two years and she was happy with that, and only when she’s 15 does she come to us and complain, so then we can’t do anything.”
Faced with pressure from the president, hostility from powerful MPs, and extralegal arguments by the head of the Family Court, women and girls in situations such as Rangina have little reason to trust the state or government to protect them.

A year-long campaign titled "Greening Pakistan-Promoting Responsible Fatherhood" was launched on Sunday by Rutgers World Population Foundation to promote responsible fatherhood.

The campaign will be implemented across Pakistan with local partners’ aid and was inaugurated to commemorate World Father’s Day, which is celebrated annually on June 16.

Father's Day is celebrated across the world to honour fathers and appreciate their sacrifices, love and contributions towards their children’s well-being and development. It was inaugurated in the United States in 1910 to complement the World Mother’s Day, which lauds the critical role mothers play in their children’s lives.

The campaign focuses on transforming gender stereotypes in society which dictate that men are only the breadwinners of the family and have no care giving role towards their children, which is traditionally seen as the woman’s job.

The campaign highlights how fathers are far less emotionally expressive towards their children due to these prescribed masculine roles, stunting the overall development of the family and children’s personality growth.

The Rutgers Foundation’s initiative on Father’s Day seeks to eliminate child marriages and domestic violence and help create an enabling environment where women and children rights are not violated.

The campaign will conclude on the next World Father's Day in 2014.

The Day was also celebrated across the city with great enthusiasm among the affluent classes. Young and old citizens alike presented tokens of their love to their fathers. The most popular gifts included watches, clothing items, mugs, cakes, wall hangings and other such Father’s Day memorabilia.

Speaking outside a local fast food chain, Faizan and his children Omer and Alia informed that they had taken time away from the rest of the family for a special Father’s Day lunch. “I work six days a week, and by the time I reach home my dad is already in bed. I hardly get to spend time with him, so today I am taking him out for lunch so we can catch up and bond over some pizza,” said Omer. A very happy Faizan told that his children had bought him a special Father’s Day themed cake and his favourite perfume to honour his striving for their upbringing. “I have worked as many as 13 hours a day so my kids could have whatever they want or need. Today, my son and daughter are returning the favour,” said a proud, beaming Faizan.

However, on the other side of the socio-economic ladder, Father’s Day passed by unobserved. Speaking to a few domestic workers in Sector I-8 revealed that the lower classes were completely ignorant of this international day. “There is a grand party at my employer’s house tonight, so I have been busy with arrangements since the morning, buying meat and vegetables from the market and working with the mechanic to ensure the electricity generator’s functioning. I have not seen my father in six months as he does not live in Lahore and my village is quite far away. I do not know anything about Father’s Day,” said Abdullah, a driver.

In addition to ignorance, the working classes also expressed disinterest in celebrating Father’s Day: “I earn just enough to feed and clothe myself. With rising prices, just paying our room’s rent has become almost impossible. My old father is happy enough that I can put roti in his stomach once a day, he does not expect any gifts or cake,” said Sakina, a sweeper.

The class differential with respect to Father’s Day celebrations cannot be ignored, and stems largely from the fact that most Father’s Day gifts and items are far beyond the economic reach of the poor. According to Nazir, who wanted to acquire a gift for his father, most shops housing these commodities are found in posh locales, and sell items with a minimum price of Rs 1000. “On and around Father’s Day, high end shops located in Jinnah Super almost double prices of Father’s Day items. I cannot afford such gifts as I am from a modest background, so I have just gotten a card for my father. It’s the thought that counts!” he explained.

A shopkeeper in Aabpara Market informed that many elite gift shops earned myriad profits through events like World Father’s Day. “We do great business on Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. Most of the items are imported from China, and sold with a hefty profit to the local distributor. Valentine’s Day is undoubtedly the most successful.”

Booming business on Father’s Day raises questions about its utility for some. “I understand that people want to honour their parents for all the love they have born them. But in a country ravaged by a severe economic crisis, is it wise to spend thousands on useless merchandise?” said a student, Ali, who chose to celebrate Father’s Day by helping his servant buy a schoolbag for his child. According to Ali, his act is closer to the Day’s spirit.

Others also condemn Father’s Day celebrations like Ali, albeit on a different count. “These celebrations are Christian, and testify to a flagrant disregard for our religion, culture and customs. Father’s Day, Mother’s Day and Valentine’s Day are un-Islamic, and their commemoration in Pakistan shows how our nation is foolishly accepting Western cultural imperialism,” said Usman bin Waqar, a mullah at a small mosque in Sector I-10.

However, despite dissenting voices like Usama and Ali, events like World Father’s Day continue to witness rising popularity in Pakistan’s urban areas. - See more at:

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