How the jirga system leads to child abuse in Sindh
It is a sad reality that the fate of women and children has long been dependent on the jirgas in rural Sindh. Matters as trivial as a goat being stolen or as serious as a land dispute are settled by punishing the daughter of the erring family. The punishment in many cases being the organised rape of the girl, or at times a small girl being given in marriage to an elderly man.
Treatment similar to that of Mukhtara Mai at the hands of the jirga is metted out to countless girls, but they suffer in silence and accept it as their fate. In rural Sindh, girls are considered to be collateral to compensate for a crime committed by another person.
The Sindh Child Protection Authority Chairperson Shamim Mumtaz, upon visiting a sexual abuse victim, facilitated an out of court settlement and recommended that the family concerned approach a jirga. This was done instead of helping the family to speed up the prosecution process or the police taking the issue to court. Mumtaz argumed that since the case was not moving forward she proposed an out of court compromise as the wadera is the ultimate protector. This parallel judicial system of illegal jirgas has strengthened feudalism, and the myth that it is less time-consuming and easily accessible is completely misleading.
A judgement by the High Court Sindh on April 23, 2004 declared the jirga system illegal, unlawful and against the provisions of the constitution and the law of the land. It was declared that jirgas have no jurisdiction to give verdict over criminal matters and their intervention means violation of the judicial system. However, the jirga system was kept alive by the Feudal lords, politicians, the police and now by the Chairperson of Sindh Child Protection Authority seems there was a concentrated effort towards not reporting and recording crimes.
Laws have been passed, yet there was no relief for the victims and once the press conferences were over and the cameras were off the issue became yesterday’s news. There has been simply no action plan and not a single child protection unit had been established at the district level since the law was first passed. The provincial government has also failed to appoint child protection officers’ for pursuing cases pertaining to child protection.
It is high time that the Sindh Chief Minister takes notice of the illegal justice system and the Chairperson, taking the law into his own hands, ensures that systems of reporting crime are in place. There is an urgent need to reform the police so that crime reporting is not painful for the victims. The lower judiciary needs to be reformed, the Sindh Child Protection Authority has to be trained, and measures must be taken to restore peoples’ confidence in the existing judicial system. The government must frame, amend and implement constitutional provisions and penal laws to oust the illegal practice of jirgas. It is not just the formulation of laws which is required but a strong and lasting commitment on the part of the Sindh government to do away with this evil system which denies justice to the under-privileged.