Pakistan: Finally An End To Bartered Brides?

world | Nov 27, 2011 | By RFE/RL 

Here is some welcome news for women's rights in Pakistan.
 
The Pakistani National Assembly this month passed a bill that outlaws the onerous practice of settling disputes between tribes and families by using women as peace tokens. 

The practice, known as Sawra, has a long history, but the parliament decided that there is no reason to continue it, particularly when the bartered bride is doomed to a lifetime of unhappiness in her forced marriage.
 
A word about how Sawra works: when someone is killed in a blood feud between tribes, the guilty party can make amends by giving his sister or daughter to the victim's family. The "peace token" is forcibly married to one of the victim's male relatives and usually will be treated as an object of recrimination and bitterness by her new family, which will work her like a slave.
 
But outlawing the practice of Sawra is one thing; ending it is another.
 
As the new law was passed this month along with bans on other forms of forced marriage and sexual discrimination, at least one victim of Sawra was in hiding.

The girl, Zarwari, did something unthinkable earlier this year when she went to a high court to challenge her parents' right to award her in marriage for an alleged crime committed two decades ago.
 
That crime centered on one of her uncles allegedly eloping with a neighbor's daughter. To settle the dispute, Zarwari's father promised upon her birth that she would marry the aggrieved father of the runaway bride. The fact that the aggrieved father is now 80 years old, and Zarwari is in her early 20s, seems not to matter to either family.
 
Zarwari, who took shelter in a safe-house run by the government during her court appeal, won her suit. But her court victory has done little to guarantee she is now out of danger. She remains in the safe-house today, afraid to go back home. 
 
The question now for all victims of forced marriages is how long it will be before mindsets change to fit the new law. That is the job of community activists and no-one should underestimate either the size of the task or the importance of trying.
 
As Sima Munir, a leader of the Awrat Foundation, a women's NGO working in Pakistan, tells Radio Mashaal, bartered brides face enormous social pressure to submit to their fate.
 
"Sawra is an inhuman tradition where girls are treated as animals after [forced] marriage," Munir says. "But whenever a woman asks for help against all this cruelty, the society does not regard her well for demanding her rights. The women who tolerate this cruelty are considered noble instead."
 
Under the new law, forcing a woman into marriage for settling a dispute will be punishable by 3 to 5 years of imprisonment and a fine of around half a million rupees (about $5,600). 
 
-- Ahmad Shah Azami

Tags: human rights , women , Pakistan

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