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Six-year-old Pakistani girl saved at last minute from arranged marriage

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
November 9th, 2012
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

A six-year-old Pakistani girl, who was ordered to marry a teenage in order to stem "enmity" between two families have been saved at the last minute by a court decision in a nearby town. The girl's family, who lived in a rural section of the Swat Valley made a plea with local authorities to halt the marriage. Officials in the town of Saidu Sharif put an end to the arrangement, and have arrested five people in connection with the case.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Bibi Roza, the girl in question had been ordered by village elders to be married on November 11 under a practice known as "swara." In the mountainous areas of northwest Pakistan, local feuds are commonly resolved in customary fashion rather than through common law, deliberated by tribal elders gathered in an assembly called a jirga.

In the event of a guilty verdict from this "kangaroo court," the defendant is often ordered to compensate the victim by handing over land, money, livestock, or as in keeping with the swara tradition -- an unmarried daughter.

The tribal practice is often viewed as a peaceful way to settle blood feuds. In the case of Bibi Roza, a jirga ordered that she be married off to a 16-year-old boy from a rival family in order to resolve an ongoing feud.

Azim Khan, Bibi Roza's 65-year-old father, said he made numerous pleas to tribal elders to reconsider their ruling, but with no success. He said the local police, who he accused of supporting the ruling, told him to accept the verdict, and told him if he were to disallow the marriage, his disobedience would establish an "enmity" between the two families.

"They [the jirga members] are telling us: 'You agreed with the authorities in Ashari to marry your daughter into the other family. You have no other option,'" Khan says. "Yes, I agreed. But the police officers forced me to agree. They are saying that she will be married this Sunday [November 11]. I have pleaded with them that I cannot let her marry."

The local police chief in Ashari, Shah Dauran rejected Khan's claims, saying the police had no role in the jirga's decision. The police launched a criminal investigation after the girl's age was revealed.

The five people who have now been arrested in connection with the case include three jirga members, plus the man who was planning to marry the girl and his father.

Swara, the practice of exchanging women and girls to settle personal feuds, is common in places like the Swat Valley, located in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas.

The Pakistani parliament declared the practice a criminal offense in 2004, punishable by a minimum of a three-year prison sentence. But the practice continues in regions where customary law and tradition remain strong.

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