See my first post in this series on cousin marriages here.
I’ll start out by quoting from Amnesty International’s reports about forced marriages in Pakistan as well as what sometimes happens if a woman marries someone of her own choice. Please note that even one such case is heartbreaking, but as always it is not the complete story. There are obviously happily married couples in Pakistan and a lot of them marry of their own accord (usually arranged by parents, though that is changing in the big cities). Those as always remain below our radar both because they don’t constitute a news story and because we focus on the cases of maltreatment. I also do not want to say that women’s rights are in good shape in Pakistan because they definitely are not. Usually however the problems are much deeper and look much more benign on a cursory look than the extreme cases in these excerpts will show.
According to a report by Amnesty International,
Shazia R.’s father arranged a forced marriage for her with a man more than twice her age. When 21-year-old Shazia refused to marry this man, her father beat her severely. Fearing that he would attempt to kill her, she ran away. She found refuge at Panah, a women’s refuge in Karachi set up with donations from several AI sections. Shazia has been staying at the shelter for two months and is extremely happy that she has been able to find safety.
In their report “Pakistan: Insufficient Protection of Women”:
During a visit to Pakistan in April 2000, a man approached Amnesty International delegates in a small Sindh town explaining that he and an adult woman wanted to get married but both partners had been promised in marriage as small children to their respective cousins. The prospective couple were aware of their right under the law to marry but feared violence including deaths at the hands of their relatives if they went ahead. Both partners loved their parents and did not wish to antagonize them but saw no way to claim their rights. Asked about how they had come to know of their rights, the young man reported that in his generation everyone knew their rights; in some cases, prospective couples had run away to ascertain their right and the news of this had contributed to the general awareness. Another couple approached Amnesty International in Karachi at that time; they had been underground for almost a year after a court marriage which the wife’s family did not approve of. They had threatened to find the wife and kill her wherever she might try to hide. More recently, several couples who had married of their own choice and who have since then been living underground and others who were about to get married but feared for their lives, sent e-mail messages to Amnesty International asking for advice on where they might be safe. Another couple who have left the country after receiving threats from the wife’s family without whose consent they had got married, sought Amnesty International’s help in their asylum application.
[…]In its meeting in September 2001 the Council of Islamic Ideology asserted that parents should ascertain the will of their daughters before arranging their marriages but reportedly also said that Islam has given the power to family elders to punish family members including wives and children if they were found to be involved in unethical activities. The advice appears to ignore that the law already requires that women freely consent to their marriages.
[…]While most marriages in Pakistan are arranged by both spouses’ parents, forced marriages continue to be reported. The judiciary in Pakistan has in some cases upheld the right of women to refuse a forced marriage. Very early age at marriage of girls continued to be reported despite legal provisions which fix the minimum age of marriage for girls at 16 and boys at 18. Early marriage denies girls the right to the right to education needed to prepare for adulthood; it also means premature pregnancy with its associated risks. Moreover child marriages must be assumed to be forced marriages as young girls cannot be assumed to be able to give free and full consent to the marriage. Sexual intercourse within forced marriages always constitutes rape.
Pakistani women living abroad continue to be abducted by their parents to be forcibly married to grooms in Pakistan. Usually deprived of their travel documents on arrival they find it difficult in an alien environment to obtain help to escape. 18-year old K. from Manchester who holds British nationality, was taken in April 2001 to Azad Jammu and Kashmir by her parents who told her they were together going on a holiday. In early August she was married to a man she did not know or want; a week later her parents left for the UK taking with them her identity papers. Fearing violence in the family of her in-laws, she hid with friends and contacted a UK based lawyer who succeeded in obtaining emergency travel documents from UK authorities. The young woman returned to the UK in late August 2001.
My anecdotal experience with the immigrant communities suggests that some of the immigrants do not assimilate (I am talking here of the people who immigrated themselves and not their children) and are actually fixed in their cultural mores to the time when they immigrated. In the meantime, the values and traditions of their original home have changed drastically. It is like time has stood still for them. These are probably the sort of immigrants who force their children to marry without consent.
Women who marry men of their own choice are frequently seen to damage their family’s ‘honour’; they are frequently detained by their parents, forcibly married to someone else, threatened, humiliated, assaulted or killed. If they chose to get married in court against the will of their parents, they may be charged, along with their husbands, with ‘illicit’ sexual relations under the country’s Zina [adultery/fornication] Ordinance if their parents do not recognize the legality of the marriage. The Zina Ordinance criminalizes zina, ‘fornication’, i.e. heterosexual relations between consenting adults outside marriage. The legality of a marriage is often difficult to prove for a couple who chose this form of marriage. Courts do not mandatorily maintain records of marriages which could be used to prove that a marriage was lawfully contracted. Women’s rights activists have therefore urged that certain procedureal requirements be made compulsory: that proper record of court marriages be maintained by the courts; that courts intimate the area police station of such marriage so that no criminal complaint of unlawful sexual relations can be registered; the courts should also inform the family concerned about a marriage having been lawfully contracted.
[…]On 25 August 2001, 22-year-old Hifza Kakar was shot dead by her brother at the gate of a sessions court in Quetta where police had escorted her from the local Darul Aman. Hifza had married Fayyaz Moon of her own free will in 1998 but her parents filed a criminal complaint against her husband in Pishin police station alleging that he had abducted her and committed zina. The couple were arrested by police in Faisalabad. During hearings before a sessions judge in Quetta Hifza asserted that she had not been abducted but had validly married Fayyaz of her own free will. The court reserved the judgment which was to be announced on 25 August. After the shootout, the court said that the couple were acquitted of all charges. Hifza Kakar’s brother was arrested.
Dozens of women pay with their lives when they claim their right to decide their own marriages:
In March 2000, Deeba Shaw, a 15-year-old girl in Chenaser Goth, Sindh province was shot dead by her family when they found out that she had married her neighbour without their knowledge. Her husband fled when he heard of her murder.
On 6 March 2000, 19-year-old Samina, married six months earlier and four-months pregnant, and her husband Tanveer Faisal were shot dead in their home in Jharanwala village, Sialkot district, by her brother as her family had opposed the marriage. No one is known to have been arrested.
Often couples believe themselves safe if they escape threats immediately after their wedding. Sometimes women’s groups try and mediate between the families to settle the conflict while the couple are in hiding. In many cases, families ultimately accept the fact of the marriage, especially once sons are born. However, sometimes their sense of shame is not appeased. Robina and Khushi Mohammad of Marianwala village in Gujranwala district were hunted down and killed in May 2000 by Robina’s uncle and two brothers over two years after their wedding against the wishes of her family; they had been in hiding but had finally returned to the husband’s home.
[…]Kubran Bibi was married by her parents without her consent to a man in village Chhedu, Punjab province, in 1999 but was divorced within a few months; her father then married her to Iqbal in her home village Rangeelpur of Manga Mandi, Lahore, again without her consent. When she was repeatedly beaten by Iqbal, she left him on 30 January 2001 and sought refuge in the private women shelter ‘Dastak’ in Lahore. Kubran Bibi told ‘Dastak’ staff at the time of her admission that she had not been consulted before either marriage and that her father had taken money for them; as her second husband was already married and used to beat her severely, she could neither go back to her parents nor to her husband but sought shelter and assistance to file for divorce. She expressed her fear of both her own relatives and her in-laws, all of whom had threatened her. While at Dastak, she was visited by her sister, brother-in-law and a cousin on 9 February 2001 and again by her father and sister on 16 February. She returned with them to her father’s home on the same day.
On 25 March 2001, as she was sleeping in the courtyard of the family home, Kubran Bibi was shot dead. According to press reports her cousin Ashiq killed her in the name of ‘honour’. An FIR (126/2001) was lodged by her father in police station Manga Mandi on 25 March 2001; it named Kubran Bibi’s cousin Mohammad Ashiq as the accused; he obtained pre-arrest bail. Kubran Bibi’s brother and brother-in-law were named as eye witnesses.
The HRCP [Human Rights Commission of Pakistan] concluded, ”the killing of a woman, Kubran Bibi who had recently left the women’s shelter ‘Dastak’ indicates how precarious the position of women is in a situation where even their closest relatives present a threat to them. It also points to the difficulties for those providing shelter to women in an attempt to offer some protection from the dangers they face.”
In some cases men have killed divorced women such as former wives or daughters or single female relatives of whose conduct they disapprove. In February 2000, Iliyas shot dead his daughter Shakeela in village Garjakh, Gujranwala district. Shakeela was living with her divorced mother who had consented to the young woman’s marriage to a man of her choice. In a similar case, a man killed his widowed sister Hoor Begum on 22 October 2000 in Nawabshah district because he disagreed with her choice for her daughter of a man from another community.
[…]’Honour’ killings occasioned by a woman seeking divorce also occur among the expatriate Pakistani community. In February 2001, Nawaz Bhatti was sentenced to death in Clairsville, Ohio, USA, for the murder of his wife Dr Lubaina Bhatti, her father, her sister and her niece in September 1999 in what Nawaz Bhatti perceived to be the defence of his ‘honour’ injured by a disloyal wife. Lubaina Bhatti had been persuaded to consent to the arranged marriage with Nawaz Bhatti in 1992 perhaps out of respect for her parents’ wishes. However, over the next years she filed domestic violence charges against her husband but did not pursue these for fear that he would abduct their son to Pakistan. In February 1999 she filed for divorce and when he continued to harass her, filed for protection in May 1999. On 11 September 1999, only a few days before the divorce was to be finalized, Bhatti shot her dead along with family members whom he believed to have helped her.
[…]Bakhtwar, an 18-year-old woman of the Pathan tribe from Perumal, Sanghar district, Sindh, on 8 July 2000 married Roshan Junejo, a man from the Junejo tribe, before a magistrate in Nawabshah. Her father, Qamruddin, strongly objected to the marriage as he had earlier accepted a marriage proposal for Bakhtwar from a kinsman, Akbar Pathan, which reportedly involved the payment of a large bride price consisting of Rs. 400,000 and two of Akbar Pathan’s five daughters. Bakhtwar’s mother had reportedly met and approved of Bakhtwar’s choice for a spouse. Bakhtwar did not want to marry Akbar Pathan as he was elderly, married and had a daughter older than Bakhtwar. Besides, Bakhtwar wanted to marry Roshan Junejo.
The couple following their wedding were sheltered by relatives but were found by Pathan tribesmen when trying to flee to another village. Bakhtwar was taken against her will to a relative, Fikir Mohammad Pathan in Sanghar who held her in quasi-detention. At the time, Bakhtwar’s family and several elders of the tribe gave written assurances to the Junejos that Bakhtwar would not be harmed and allowed to appear in court at a date fixed earlier for a hearing, 19 July, to state freely if she wanted to stay with her husband or with her family. They said they would respect her choice.
Meanwhile several hundred Pathan tribesmen gathered at Sanghar protesting against Bakhtwar’s disobedience and twice attacked the house where she was held, apparently with the intention to kill her. The tribesmen denounced the marriage and insisted on protecting the family’s ‘honour’ by declaring they would not allow Bakhtwar to approach the court. A spokesperson said: ”We will protect our honour. It is our tradition and part of our culture, irrespective of what the people say.”
On 18 July night, a jirga of the Pathan and Junejo tribes gathered, apparently at or near the residence of a former Member of the National Assembly (MNA) Haji Khuda Bux Rajar and decided that the girl should stay with her parents. The Pathan tribe promised the Junejo tribe that she would not be harmed if her husband agreed to divorce her and allowed her to be returned to her parents. Bakhtwar’s parents are reported to have sworn on the Qur’an not to harm their daughter. Roshan Junejo who had gone into hiding for fear of his life, was brought to the meeting and on hearing this assurance, signed the divorce papers, presumably under considerable duress. Newspaper reported on 20 July that Bakhtwar was escorted by police to Quetta where a part of the family lives.
[…]Among the positive judgments was the Lahore High Court ruling of January 2001 that a woman cannot be forced to live with her husband or her parent against her will. The court responded to a petition by Shahnaz Akhter which alleged that she had been forced to marry a man, her cousin, whom she did not choose or agree to marry and that she feared for her life if she was sent back to her parents where she said her brothers would kill her. The court directed that she be lodged in the local state-run shelter, the Darul Aman, where no one would be allowed to meet her without her consent. Months earlier, Shahnaz had written to the High Court complaining that her family was getting her married without her consent; the court had taken note of this but sent her back to her family after her brothers pledged before the court to respect her wish. Days later she was forced to marry the man her brothers had selected. Shahnaz Akhter had then appealed again to the High Court, saying: ”In the days before Islam, girls were buried alive. Now they are sold like sheep and goats. I have been sold to a man I never wanted to live with. What kind of Islam is this? I am a very unlucky woman who has been thrown to the wolves. My marriage is cruel and arbitrary.”
[…]The Sindh High Court circuit bench in Hyderabad on 21 September 2000 ordered the registration of a kidnapping and murder charge against the father and mother of Uzma Talpur, on a constitutional petition filed by Nasir Mehmood, husband of Uzma Talpur after police on numerous occasions failed to bring her to court. Nasir Mehmood, a student of Tandojam Agricultural University, and Uzma Talpur got married of their own choice on 14 November 1998 in Khairpur before a magistrate as the Talpur family disapproved of the marriage. The couple then went to Punjab province where they were arrested in Jhelum on 30 November 1998 by Hyderabad police on a kidnapping and zina charge; Uzma was subsequently handed over to her parents. Nasir Mehmood stated that police maltreated him in custody and took away the wedding certificate. When the kidnapping charge against Nasir Mehmood was heard before the Karachi High Court, the Talpur family undertook on 6 April 1999 to bring their daughter to the court but failed to do so repeatedly. The mater was then transferred to the Hyderabad bench of the High Court where, on 12 May 2000, the court was informed by Uzma’s father, Gul Mohammad Talpur,, that he had brought her to court on 20 April 1999 but that she had been kidnapped by four unknown persons. The Station House Officer of Cantonment police station, however stated that no woman had been kidnapped on that day. Despite this, another FIR alleging kidnapping was registered against Nasir Mehmood. The court issued several search orders to recover Uzma Talpur but to date she has not been found.
Most of these cases involve use of force, especially deadly force. This is however not the common practice. Most often, the pressure for or against marriage is an emotional one. Parents routinely do not ask their daughter’s opinion about a marriage prospect, assuming that she will accept. They try to emotionally blackmail their children (both guys and girls) to marry the person the parents have chosen or not to marry the person the child has decided on. If someone, especially a woman, marries of their own accord, they are socially cut off from their family. This boycott often ends after a while, especially a the married couple get a kid of their own (as mentioned in the excerpt).
One question that arises out of this discussion is how to define forced marriage. Is it forced only when physical force is applied? Or is a marriage forced, when the consent is not completely freely given whether the pressure was physical or emotional? I would go with the second definition. This brings a lot of cases not discussed in human rights reports because they are much milder, difficult to prove and very common. Arranged marriages play into this to some extent as well.