Published in The Express Tribune, October 13th, 2014.
After one of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa’s (K-P) own made it to the world headlines hours before the International Day of the Girl Child, it seems the province has a lot to achieve for its girls.
According to the Unicef Demographic Health Survey from 2014, more than one in seven adolescent girls experience physical violence during pregnancy in Pakistan. This survey is just one of many studies which show how complicated survival is for a girl, a fact commonly repeated by aid workers and NGOs. The extent which violence against women has reached can be gauged by its acceptability and pervasiveness.
The Demographic Health Survey of 2006-07 stated that in Pakistan, one out of six women between ages of 15 and 19 is already married. A report by Society for Protection of Rights of Child (SPARC) revealed in May 2010 that a six-month-old baby was married to a 25-year-old man.
Human rights activist Rakhshanda Naz has only gut-wrenching case studies to share, to add to the numbers crunched by Unicef. Talking to The Express Tribune about child marriage and other related issues in K-P and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata), Naz brings up the story of one young teenage girl. Zarmina* was a 13-year-old girl in DI Khan who was married to a man much older than her by her parents for the sake of money.
Naz said such cases are routine where girls are married off to men for money, to solve disputes or settle ‘honour’. She has personally visited places where a young girl is married to an old man for money. In some cases, said Naz, the girls are sold for prostitution after they are ‘married’.
Apart from early marriages, trafficking of girls from K-P is common in the country, especially from Chitral, added the activist. Such cases are difficult to track as they are undertaken in the guise of marriage and marriage is poorly documented in the region, said Naz.
In K-P and Fata, she explained, there is little requirement to register a marriage, and few have a nikah nama, which is otherwise said to be compulsory by law. Even if there is a nikah nama, it is kept with the wali, the guardian of the woman who is often complicit in the matter. Without legal documentation, there is no way to monitor the flesh trade or record child marriages in the province and the tribal areas, said Naz.
When asked about role of the government in this vicious system, Naz said in Pakistan external human trafficking is always stressed upon but there are no measures to prevent internal trafficking where girls are traded within the country.
This is one of the outcomes of and one of the reasons behind the marriage of the girl child. According to Naz, there is an organised chain of networks in the province through which girls, after getting married to older men, are traded from one area to another. One such chain, Naz said, was found in Nowshera through which girls from Charsadda and other adjacent areas are trafficked to Punjab.
The elites in the legislature are not interested in solving the problem as they consider it a burden of the poor and the elites know their girls are far placed from the malice of this system, she added.
*Name changed to protect identity