12-year-old Alina* wants a divorce from her 35-year-old husband to whom she was married against her will in January.
Her parents and husband’s family are however insistent that the girl live with the man because divorced women are not respected in the society.
The girl had left her husband’s house in Sahiwal and arrived in Faisalabad on Wednesday but was not permitted to stay at her parents home. She had to put up at an old neighbour’s house where she is still staying.
She told The Express Tribune that she was told by her father that now that she was married she had no option but to stay with her husband.
She said her father was under the influence of her step-mother. “I was married to Zahid in January 2011,” she said. Zahid was a distant relative of one of her step-mother’s old neighbours, she said. She said her step-mother would regularly accuse her of having a bad character. “She misled my father into believing that I had affairs with several men in the neighbourhood and he agreed to her suggestion of marrying me off,” she said.
She said her step mother had made her father send her two younger sisters to live with an aunt in Lahore. She said she wanted a divorce and to move to Darul Aman. She said she had also tried to contact her aunt to ask her if she could go and stay at her house. “My father had already persuaded her not to allow me to come to her place.”
Alina’s brother-in-law, Nadeem, said his brother would not divorce her at any cost. He said divorced women did not have good prospects in the society. He said not divorcing her was in fact a favour to the girl. “A woman’s home is where her husbands is,” he said. He added that he and his brother would soon visit Faisalabad to take her back.
He said the couple had had a quarrel and she had left the house. “She would occasionally tell him that the marriage was arranged against her wishes. This irritated him and that day he scolded him,” he said.
Nasreen, her old neighbour, told The Tribune that she could not keep the girl for a long time. She said she realised that the girl was in need of help but could only let her stay for some days.
Sahiba Irfan Khan, a child rights program officer at Society for Protection of Rights of the Child (SPARC), said that the organisation had child rights committees in all districts that took up such cases. She said that once all relevant information was available to the relevant SPARC officials in Faisalabad, they would be in a position to provide legal assistance. She also said SPARC did not have shelter homes of its own. However, she added, once it had taken up a case it ensured that the child was sent to live at a government-run shelter home where it would be safe.
*Name of the child has been changed to protect identity
Published in The Express Tribune, April 8th, 2011.