MINGORA: Nine members of a jirga were arrested by Saidu Sharif police on Thursday for forcing an eight-year-old girl to marry under the archaic Swara custom. The child was forced to tie the knot to settle an ongoing dispute which erupted from her male cousin’s love marriage in a court.
In October 2014, Usman Ali, a resident of Godar village, eloped with Gul Meena from Salmanpur union council and got married in court. The union sparked a dispute between the families of the bride and groom.
A month into the marriage, the families decided to settle the dispute by marrying off the bridegroom’s cousin to a 12 year-old boy from the bride’s family. The child was given away during a nikkah ceremony by her uncle, Usman Jan, who is the father of Usman Ali.
“When we were informed about the jirga’s decision, a force was immediately dispatched to take action against its members,” Saidu Sharif SHO Iqbal Nasim told The Express Tribune. “Police arrested all nine people involved in the case, including members of the jirga, the maulvi and the uncle of the girl.”
He added cases had been filed against them and the suspects would soon be presented in court.
Khwendo Jirga Chairperson Tabasum Adnan, a women’s rights activist, told The Express Tribune she informed the district administration the moment she got wind of the incident.
“We have to join forces against such anti-Islamic and extrajudicial customs in remote and rural areas,” she asserted. “Awareness must be created among the people as parents are unaware of the legal implications in such cases,” Tabasum asserted.
Jamila’s father, Usman Ghani, told The Express Tribune he was not at home at the time of the jirga’s decision. “All our disputes and conflicts are resolved by local jirgas, so I hoped the decision would avoid bloodshed between the families,” he said. The girl’s mother also said she was unaware of the decision initially, but later accepted it to avoid the inevitable conflict.
Humaira Shaukat, a lawyer in Swat, said the Constitution of Pakistan guaranteed rights of both men and women under articles 4, 8, 14, 25, 26, 27, 34, 35, 37 and 38.
“Section 310(A) of the Criminal Law Act (2004) prohibits Badal-e-Sulh and girls or women cannot be given in marriage as compensation for someone else’s crime,” she said. Shaukat added violators could be punished with imprisonment of between three and 10 years.
According to legal experts, the Prevention of Anti-Women Practices (Criminal Law Amendment) Act 2011 specifies strong punishments for practices such as Vani, Swara and Badal-e-Sulh, wherein women are traded to settle personal, family or tribal disputes.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 5th, 2014.