Social Issues

Flee or die living: story of forced marriages in Pakistan

By Amjad Ali

Islamabad, Jun 28 (EFE).- Kausar Bibi, 20, eloped with her lover, leaving behind three young daughters and husband from a forced marriage arranged by her parents, in which she was kept prisoner in her own house in eastern Pakistan for seven years.

Even though two weeks later a neighbor brought her back to her parents’ house against her will, a day later Bibi again jumped the wall of her house early morning while everyone was asleep and fled with her lover, Saleem Chandia, for a second time.

On Jun. 22, Bibi recorded a statement with the Multan High Court, situated close to the town she fled, saying she wanted to end her forced marriage and marry Chandia instead, a petition which the court granted.

The woman, who has received death threats from her husband and parents, asked EFE to not reveal the place where she has been living.

She stressed that she was happy to begin a new life and would never return to her parents or her previous husband.

“I love my daughters and miss them but I love Chandia more, with whom I wanted to marry in the first place,” Bibi said.

Her case is just one among the rising number of court-mandated re-marriages following unions decided by the parents without the consent of their children.

Bibi’s parents married her off when she was just 13, an illegal act which continues to be a reality in large parts of the country, especially rural areas, where girls are deprived of education and hail from poor families that cannot sustain them for a long time.

The Child Marriage Restraint Act 1929 establishes the minimum age of marriage for men as 18, while it is set at 16 for women.

However in the Sindh province, it is illegal for anyone below the age of 18 to marry irrespective of their gender.

The case of Dua Zahra, 17, grabbed headlines across the country when she disappeared from her house in Sindh in April and later announced her marriage with a 21-year-old man.

Her family, unhappy with the union, appealed to the court to annul the union as their daughter was a minor, but the provincial high court decided in favor of Zahra, allowing her to decide her future, which resulted in her continuing to stay with her husband.

According to UNICEF data, in Pakistan one in every six women is married while underage, taking the total number of child marriages to 19 million, out of which 4.6 million are those carried out before the age of 15.

According to the latest demographic and health survey 2017-18, as many as 29 percent of Pakistani women get married by the age of 18, compared to just 5 percent of the men.

Lack of education and dependence on the parents are key factors behind the prevalent gender inequality in the country, according to Nilofar Bakhtiar, chairperson for National Commission on the Status of Women.

“If a girl chooses her own husband it is considered a stigma on the dignity of the family, so they prefer to be silent,” she told EFE.

In the case of forced marriage, often girls are not asked for their consent for marriage, sometimes not even being introduced to their future husband until the day of the marriage.

“I only came to know on the wedding night that my husband was not sexually fit,” a 28-year old woman told EFE from Taxila, near Islamabad, on the condition of anonymity.

“After eight years of my marriage I am still a virgin,” she added.

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