October 19, 2011 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 750

Growing Cases of Forced Child Marriages in Pakistani Society

October 19, 2011 | By Tufail Ahmad
Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 750


There are indications in Pakistani media that underage girls – sometimes as young as 10, or five, or even one – are increasingly being married off by their parents for varying reasons of cultural traditions and social ills, such as to settle debts or as punishment for a male relative's sexual misconduct or elopement, on the orders of a panchayat (local council of elders) to settle a dispute, in exchange for a piece of land, or in an exchange marriage, and so on. On occasion, girls – and boys too – are killed for marrying against their parent's will.

In recent months, Pakistani media has covered many such incidents. Most of these cases are not reported to the police. Such marriages are culturally sanctioned, especially in Pakistani rural society, and are willingly solemnized by Islamic clerics who do not oppose the marriage of underage girls. Social customs under which these marriages are justified include watta satta (marrying girls from rival families), wani (marrying off a girl as punishment in settling disputes, usually on the orders of the panchayat), swara (little girls married to rival families to resolve disputes), or karo kari (killing of girls or boys for dishonoring the family, for example by marrying against their parents' will).

Pakistani law set the minimum age for marriage at 16 for girls and 18 for boys, but it is rarely enforced. In most cases, the culprits are not punished because they are influential landholding families in rural Pakistan, especially in Punjab province.

The following are reports from the Pakistani media on marriages of underage girls, reflecting their increase in Pakistani society.

12-Year-Old Girl Wed to 85-Year-Old Man

In late September 2011, a 12-year-old girl was given in marriage to an 85-year-old man in the Bhowana Adlana Japay area of the town of Chiniot in Punjab province.[1]

According to a Pakistani media report, Faiz sold his daughter Rani to the groom in lieu of five acres of land to resolve a dispute arising out of his killing the groom's sister eight years ago.[2] The marriage was solemnized on the order of a panchayat, which ruled that Faiz must give his daughter to settle the blood debt.

According to the report, the groom, identified as Ahmad, is a wealthy landlord owning more than 20 acres of land, and had been married three times.[3]

10-Year-Old Girl Wed to Settle Debt

In October 2011, a 10-year-old girl was married off in the Pakistani city of Faisalabad to a 28-year-old man by her addict father, in order to repay a debt.[4] The police arrested the groom and the cleric who conducted the nikah (Islamic marriage) after they received a complaint from the girl's mother.

According to a Pakistani media report, the girl's father had taken a loan of 15,000 Pakistani Rupees (about $170) from the groom and agreed to the marriage in order to pay off the debt.[5]

Girl Approaches Court Against Marriage to 80-Year-Old Man

In October 2011, teenager Zar Wali appeared before the Peshawar High Court with a written request that she be protected from her brother and mother who wanted to marry her off to an 80-year-old man.[6]

The court sent her to a shelter home after she sought protection against what is known as swara, a social custom under which little girls are married off to members of rival families to settle old feuds.

According to a Pakistani media report, Zar Wali alleged that Zar Guloona had eloped with her paternal uncle from Afghanistan, Zahir Khan, many years ago, and a jirga (council of elders) ruled that upon reaching adulthood she be given in swara to the runaway's family, to be wed to the latter's uncle Mannan.[7]

11-Year-Old Girl Married Off by Father for Money

In September 2011, 11-year-old Nadia told a journalist how she had been forced by her father into marrying a 20-year-old boy in the Sukkur district of Sindh province.[8]

Later, her mother lodged a police complaint, following which her husband, Mohammad Yasin Shaikh, the "son-in-law" Shakeel Shaikh, and Maulvi Noor Ahmed Chachar who solemnized the marriage, were arrested.

In her statement before the court, Nadia explained that her father is a greedy man and married her off "for money."[9] The girl told the court that her father beat her mother out of the house and next day arrived along with a cleric and her nikah was solemnized.

There were conflicting reports about what led to this marriage, but according to another interpretation, the father had married another woman six months previously and had promised to marry off his daughter in exchange.[10]

Five-Year-Old Girl Wed to 40-Year-Old Man

In October 2011, a five-year-old girl was given in marriage to a 40-year-old man as a "punishment" for her father's elopement with that man's sister in the Vehari district of Punjab province.[11]

Habiba Bibi (name changed) told a journalist that her daughter was taken away from her and handed over to the groom following the order of a panchayat (council of elders). The panchayat also imposed a fine of 400,000 Pakistani Rupees ($4,600) on the mother, warning that she would be expelled from the village in case she failed to pay the amount.

Some members of the panchayat told The Express Tribune newspaper that they had decided the issue in accordance with their traditions, rejecting a suggestion that the verdict was unfair to the child.[12]

10-Year-Old Child Bride Presented Before Court

In October 2011, a 10-year-old girl from Salehpat, a village in the Sukkur district of Pakistan, was forcefully married to a young man, but details of the case were not clear.[13]

Following a tip-off, the local police intervened while the wedding was underway and presented the girl before a court.

Her father and the groom, Muhammad Yousuf, were taken into policy custody, while the girl's mother demanded protection because she believed that her life was in danger.

Court of Elders Orders Marriage of One-Year-Old Infant

In October 2011, a one-year-old girl was married to a 24-year-old youth after the child was declared wani by a panchayat in a village in Jhang district.[14] Local police arrested three men for solemnizing the marriage of the infant.

According to a media report, the panchayat was called in the district's Kot Shakir village to punish the child's father after he was caught with a woman in the neighborhood. The panchayat declared his daughter to be wani, requiring her to marry as a punishment for her father's misdeed.[15]

The panchayat chief, Aslam Gujjar, a traffic warden in the town of Jhang, ruled that the girl's father could be pardoned if he agreed to give a woman from his family in marriage to a man from the family of the woman with whom he was conducting an illicit relationship. The father agreed to hand over his infant daughter.[16]

Five-Year-Old Girl Married Off in Exchange

In late July 2011, police arrested a man for marrying off his five-year-old daughter in a watta satta (exchange marriage) ceremony in the Faisalabad district of Punjab.[17] The man, Akram, whose wife had died three years previously, agreed to marry off his daughter Sana Shehzadi to 25-year-old Irfan in exchange for marrying Irfan's sister.

A police team raided the wedding ceremony as the guests were dining. The bride's father, grandfather and nikah khwan (a religious person who solemnizes marriage) were arrested, along with seven wedding guests.

"The child didn't seem to have any clue as to what was going on," said Shehnaz Bibi, a wedding guest.[18] Another wedding guest said: "The child had no idea what was happening. She didn't know she had gotten married or that her father was also getting married to her new sister-in-law."[19]

15-Year-Old Girl Killed for Refusing to Marry in Exchange

In Multan district of Punjab province, Qaswar Abbas killed his 15-year-old sister Rifat in July 2011 after she refused to marry another man as part of watta satta, an exchange marriage that would have allowed Abbas to marry her prospective husband's sister.[20]

According to a report, Abbas was told that the only way he could marry his cousin Farah was if his sister was married in exchange to Farah's brother Shujaat.

Abbas kept pressuring Rifat to marry Shujaat but she refused because he was drug addict. Later, Abbas locked his sister up in a cowshed and beat her with iron rods, and then he hanged her from the ceiling fan and fled the district.[21]

13-Year-Old Girl Married Off to 45-Year-Old Man

In June 2011, a 13-year-old girl suffered domestic violence and sexual abuse after being married to a 45-year-old man by her stepfather in lieu of 50,000 Pakistani Rupees [$575]. Later, the girl refused to return to her husband. She and her mother approached the media in Peshawar following pressure from some "guarantors" that she return to her husband in Punjab province.[22]

According to a Pakistani media report, the victim visited the Peshawar Press Club along with her mother and stated that she "would prefer to commit suicide" instead of returning to the man in Punjab and also alleged that apart from domestic violence, one of her in-laws also used to sexually abuse her.[23]

Her marriage took place when she was 12 years old and the Child Protection and Welfare Act (CPWA), 2010 was not yet enacted, thereby causing legal complications to her disadvantage.

10-Year-Old Girl Married Off to 40-Year-Old Man

In June 2011, a man sold his 10-year-old daughter to a 40-year-old in marriage for 30,000 Pakistani Rupees ($345) in Mian Channu, a town in Punjab province.[24] Later he claimed that his daughter was 18 years old, but neighbors put her age at 10 years.

According to a media report, the father, Zulfiqar, said that his daughter had to get married some day, and that due to his poverty he could not afford to keep her at home.[25]

Neighbors told a journalist that Zulfiqar and his wife bribed nikah registrar Muhammad Naseer because he was initially unwilling to contract the marriage. The police team, which reached his home, was told that the bride was 18 years old and hence the police said they could not do anything unless a complaint was filed against the man.

14-Year-Old Girl's Exchange Marriage Prevented

In the Vehari district of Punjab province, police prevented a watta satta marriage of a nine-year-old boy and a 14-year-old girl in May 2011. According to a media report, Ejaz Ahmed was set to marry Shazia, and in exchange their siblings Farzana, 14, and Amir, nine, were to tie the knot.[26]

"There is nothing wrong with this match. All the parties had agreed and the children wanted the marriage," said Amir's mother, Amira Bibi.[27] Farzana's mother, Mukhtar Bibi, said, "The police had no right to interfere in this instance. This is a private matter and no one was harmed. We don't have to consult the police before settling on a match for our children."[28]

Senior police officer Malik Daud commented on the case: "This has nothing to do with the parent's wishes or the fact that the children agreed to the match. The marriage of minors is illegal…"[29]

10-Year-Old Girl's Marriage for Land Prevented

In the district of Dadu in Pakistan's Sindh province, a 10-year-old girl escaped after police intervened to stop her forced marriage to an underage boy in the Dodo Birhamani village in May this year.[30]

Senior police officer Benazir Jamali led a team of cops to raid the house of Faiz Mohammad Gadehi, where the marriage was about to be solemnized, and the girl, Kanwal aka Koori, was recovered following a scuffle between the police and the villagers.[31]

According to Kanwal and the local police, the father had decided to marry off the girl to Nazar Mohammad in exchange for three acres of land.[32] The mother of the girl, Arbab Gadehi, defended the marriage, arguing that by marrying off her underage daughter they were following the "custom of ancestors."[33]

* Tufail Ahmad is Director of MEMRI's South Asia Studies Project (


[1] The Express Tribune (Pakistan), October 1, 2011.

[2] The Express Tribune (Pakistan), October 1, 2011.

[3] The Express Tribune (Pakistan), October 1, 2011.

[4] (Pakistan), October 11, 2011.

[5] (Pakistan), October 11, 2011.

[6] Dawn (Pakistan), October 12, 2011.

[7] Dawn (Pakistan), October 12, 2011.

[8] The Express Tribune (Pakistan), September 30, 2011.

[9] The Express Tribune (Pakistan), September 30, 2011.

[10] The Express Tribune (Pakistan), September 30, 2011.

[11] The Express Tribune (Pakistan), October 7, 2011.

[12] The Express Tribune (Pakistan), October 7, 2011.

[13] The Express Tribune (Pakistan), October 13, 2011.

[14] The Express Tribune (Pakistan), October 11, 2011.

[15] The Express Tribune (Pakistan), October 11, 2011.

[16] The Express Tribune (Pakistan), October 11, 2011.

[17] The Express Tribune (Pakistan), August 1, 2011.

[18] The Express Tribune (Pakistan), August 1, 2011.

[19] The Express Tribune (Pakistan), August 1, 2011.

[20] The Express Tribune (Pakistan), July 3, 2011.

[21] The Express Tribune (Pakistan), July 3, 2011.

[22] Dawn (Pakistan), June 21, 2011.

[23] Dawn (Pakistan), June 21, 2011.

[24] The Express Tribune (Pakistan), June 11, 2011.

[25] The Express Tribune (Pakistan), June 11, 2011.

[26] The Express Tribune (Pakistan), June 19, 2011.

[27] The Express Tribune (Pakistan), June 19, 2011.

[28] The Express Tribune (Pakistan), June 19, 2011.

[29] The Express Tribune (Pakistan), June 19, 2011.

[30] Dawn (Pakistan), May 11, 2011.

[31] Dawn (Pakistan), May 11, 2011.

[32] Dawn (Pakistan), May 11, 2011.

[33] Dawn (Pakistan), May 11, 2011.

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