He went from being her uncle to the father of her child, and no one saved her

She was happy being a bride, because up until that day, she was only used to dressing her dolls as brides.

Saba Mushtaq August 03, 2015
Saima was 10-years-old when she was taken from her school located in a small town in Mitiari by her khaalu (maternal aunt’s husband). He told the teacher that Saima’s mother was very sick and she needed to be taken to her at the earliest.

He arrived at the village, along with the little girl who had no idea what was about to happen with her. He asked her to stay at his house till her parents returned from the hospital, and she responded with affirmation. Two days passed by and Saima was eager to see her parents but they had not returned from the hospital as yet. Saima thought to herself,
Ami (mother) must be very sick, maybe that’s why the doctor has kept her at the hospital.”

Days kept passing by, and she was getting used to living with her uncle. She even started liking it. After all, she did not have to do any work or did not have to go to school. She only had to play with her toys and be with her khaalu.

Time was flying by, as if it had to catch something very important.

Khaalu was the only family Saima was left with. As time flew by, the hope of seeing her parents slowly diminished. One day, her khaalu brought home a maulvi sahab and got married to Saima. She could not comprehend the meaning of marriage at such a tender age, but she was happy being a bride, because up until that day, she was only used to dressing her dolls as brides.

Now, Saima is an 11-year-old and is not the lively child she used to be. She does not like going out. She does not like playing with her khaalu, who is now her husband. She does not like talking to anyone about anything. The events that unfolded within a short span of a year had completely transformed her. Her life has changed as she is now expecting a child.

She is not even sure what is happening to her.

She doesn’t even know what it would feel like to have a child when she’s a child herself.

She feels weak, emotionally, and physically. It is too much for her little mind to absorb. But then again, isn’t it too much for anybody to absorb – a child having a child?

Saima is a victim of forced child marriage. Her betrothal to her khaalu was to settle a loan which her parents could not repay. Child marriages occur when one or both of the spouses are below the age of 18 years. While boys may also be victim to this issue, in Pakistan, girls are more vulnerable and impacted by this.

The primary causes of child marriages are due to a various reasons – traditional and customary practices, tribal and feudal structure of society, extremely weak legislation, lack of implementation of existing laws, and lack of awareness in the public about the harmful effects of child marriages.

Then there are exploitative practices like bride price – a monetary payment or quantity of goods given to the bride’s family by the groom. Swara marriages wherein girls are given to settle disputes, loans that the family cannot repay, to settle murders, abductions, adultery, and kidnapping committed by the men of the family. Watta Satta – bride exchange or the simultaneous marriage of a brother-sister pair (in some cases, it could involve a pair of cousins or an uncle-niece) from two households.

According to the Pakistan Demographic and Health Survey (2006-2007), almost one-third of young girls in the country are married before the age of 18 years. One out of 10 girls between the ages of 15 to 19 is already a mother or is pregnant. The statistics are still feared to be the same after eight years of the lapse.

Early child marriages and early pregnancies lead to poor health, sexual abuse, vulnerability to HIV/AIDs, maternal/infant mortality, unstable physiological and psychological health conditions of the young mothers and their children.

Despite the physical damage to young girls, little progress has been made towards ending the practice of child marriage. Passing bills and making laws will not end such a practice, making sure those bills and laws are implemented without discrimination would, however, help. But in Pakistan, waiting for laws and bills to be implemented is like the people in Thar waiting for the year-long famine to end. When the government cannot even provide security to schools, considering the APS attack that shook the very foundation of this nation, how can we expect them to put an end to a ‘tradition’ that is plaguing our children and our beloved country.

*Names have been changed to protect the identity of the individual.
Saba Mushtaq The author is pursuing her MBA. She is a philanthropist working with a local NGO and likes to learn about new people, new places, and new food. She tweets as @saba_hsh
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.


Eliheg | 8 years ago | Reply why on earth can't you just discuss this story no matter in which country?! This isn't a war zone between Pakistan and India/USA/wherever, this is about a horrible, malicious practice that has to be ended! There's something terribly wrong with cultures that endorse such horrific traditions, and placing the blame on other countriesisn't constructive at all! This DOES happen in Pakistan, it's not even very uncommon. It also happens in other countries - but that's not the point! The point is that young girls are being used as merchandise, as means for settling differences, debt or whatever. Innocent, helpless little girls getting brutalized by disgusting grown men. Children having their entire lives totally wrecked by greedy, stupid, evil men who gladly destroy beautiful little girls just to satisfy their sexual desires. This is utterly disgusting, and every man supporting the horrible exploitation of the young girls needs to be punished, imprisoned, and pay the girl millions for ruining her hopes, dreams and her life. Too many men are too selfish to realize that the girls and women deserve every bit as much respect as boys and men do. The girls are just as good as the boys, and all human beings have the right to determine for themselves if and whom they wish to spend their lives with. We all need to stand together to end the horrible practices of these cultures, instead of pointing fingers at each other!
Fima | 8 years ago | Reply they all should be punished ..
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