Monday, August 07, 2006

A Muslim cleric married off a baby girl in Pakistan

Giraldus Cambrensis:

We have reported earlier on cases of vani and swara, where girls are given away in marriage, often at ridiculously young ages, to act as compensation for the crimes or transgressions of a male relative. Vani was made illegal on January 11 in Pakistan, at the same time as the banning of honour killing, and vani crimes can invoke a 10 year jail sentence. However, so far there has been no successful conviction for vani in the 17 months that the practice was outlawed.

In North-West Frontier Province (NWFP), where such practice is common, it is called swara. Dawn reports that yesterday, Peshawar High Court granted bail to five individuals, including a Muslim cleric, who are accused of handing over a three month old baby girl in swara marriage to another family.

The cleric solemnised the nikah (betrothal) of Sadaf, the baby, about five months ago in the village of Totalai in Buner district. A police case file had been made on March 10, invoking section 310A of the Pakistan Penal Code. Under Article 247 (3) of the constitution, laws must only apply to these regions if they have been approved by the president and enacted by the NWFP governor.

The individuals were granted bail because it was argued that the law had not yet been made to incorporate the "provincially Administered Tribal Areas" of Pakistan, though the laws against child marriage should already apply to these regions.

The accused individuals were granted bail following two sureties of 100,000 rupees ($1,658).

The details, as can be ascertained, are these. Sher Nawaz had discovered his wife, Sardara Bibi, in "objectionable position" with one of his own relatives, a man named Saleem Khan. As a result, Sher Nawaz divorced his wife.

The relationships between the husband's family and Khan's family deteriorated, and a jirga (Muslim village council) was called. The jirga decreed that Saleem Khan's three month old niece Sadaf should be given away in marriage to Zohaib, the nephew of Sher Nawaz, who was himself only a year and a half in age. Saleem Khan's family were also ordered to pay the family of Sher Nawaz the sum of 800,000 rupees ($13,278) in compensation.

The compensation was paid, and the betrothal was solemnised. The girl now has no choice in the matter, as nikah is regarded as religiously binding. Only a senior Islamic cleric can dissolve such a betrothal. Sadaf is now expected to consummate the wedding when she attains puberty.

Sardara Bibu, the divorced wife of Sher Nawaz, said when she heard of the decision that Saleem Khan had raped her, and told police of the jirga's pronouncement.

The people who were granted bail are Mohammad Shamin, Sadaf's grandfather, Fazal Ameen, her uncle, Wali Khan, the father of 18 month old Zohaib, and Mira Khan, a member of the jirga which presided over the issue.

The prayer leader who had performed the nikah of the two children was named as Umer Saeed, who also is charged and who received bail yesterday.

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