The right to choose one’s spouse is widely considered a basic right for every person, yet, for decades, the average Pakistani was stripped of this right. But thanks to greater awareness, the situation is changing.
Usman* and Asma* say their parents did not allow them to get married. They tried their best to convince their parents, but after realising they were faced with a brick wall, they took the ‘side door’ and went to a local court.
The number of court marriages has been seeing regular-year-on-year increases, going up 11 per cent this year. On average, between five to 10 cases of court marriages are heard in Rawalpindi family courts every day. Currently 25,000 women-related cases are sub-judice in the 50-plus family courts in Rawalpindi district. Of these, 1,179 are related to court marriages, according to details from the Rawalpindi senior civil judge’s office.
Quaid-i-Azam University Sociology Department Head Dr Muhammad Zaman said better awareness of rights has challenged the traditional structure of marriage, particularly in villages and small towns. “Young women are particularly more aware of their fundamental rights. They go to court when they feel that their parents are denying them their rights,” he said.
Asma’s parents had arranged for her to marry a one of her cousins, despite her refusal to consent. After failing to ‘convince’ them to let her decide on her future, she went to court.
The couple’s experience in court was far from perfect. Usman says he paid a lawyer around Rs15,000, though such cases would normally cost much less. He was also irritated by the complicated legalese. The lawyer initially promised to charge a fixed amount, but kept charging them extra at every step. The process was completed in a week.
More people are opting to marry of their own choice and eventually go to court, said a senior family court judge while requesting anonymity. The trend is on rise in both urban and rural areas. The main reasons behind this elevated trend, he added are weakening family bond and parents’ inability to find good matches for their daughters.
Rawalpindi-based lawyer Samina Bukhari, who deals with family cases, said the rising trend of court marriages is due to increased awareness of rights and also of the influence of TV and social media.
“Women now raise their voices if they are treated unfairly, she added. The reasons behind rising divorce rates, according to her, are mismatched or forced marriages, and income disparity between the families of the husband and wife.
Asma Sarwat, supervisor of the Darul Aman women’s shelter, said customs such as ‘watta-satta’, forced marriages, and domestic violence are among the reasons that an increasing number of women and girls flee their homes. She said that women have gained awareness of their rights to live free of violence and to choose their futures because of the media and NGOs.
* Names have been changed
Published in The Express Tribune, July 23rd, 2015.