Thursday, June 12, 2008

15 Girls As Payment For A Donkey: Two clans in Pakistan resolve eight years of disputes with forced marriages

This was one of the newspaper articles I read last week while traveling in Spain. It was in the June 8th edition of "El País", oddly in the "society" section way back on page 40. (The article is posted here at the newspaper's website.) It was interesting reading the news stories in this newspaper, with reports from around the world, including a good number about the Middle East. I wondered if such stories were likewise covered back in the U.S. and elsewhere around the world, especially where women's welfare is a big concern … or should be.

Here are some details from the article (my translation):

The article began so: "Pakistan, being one of the few countries in the world capable of making nuclear weapons, continues socially anchored in the most archaic feudalism. Many of its tribes value domestic animals more than they do women, exemplified by an adopted decision of a council of notable locals ("yirga") of the province of Baluchistan of ending an old dispute between clans with the handing over of 15 virgins between the ages of 3 and 10 years of age."

"Virgins between the age of 3 and 10?!?" I thought to myself. I am deeply puzzled by how human rights groups, the mainstream media, and politicians can focus their efforts on such issues as the Guantanamo Bay prisoners or U.S. soldiers imprisoned for going AWOL during a time of war, and yet turn a blind eye to honor killings and child bride marriages. Is it the result of "moral relativism" – we cannot criticize what happens in other cultures because we might appear racist and bigoted?

Some more details from the article:
• The conflict between the two clans originated eight years ago when a dog belonging to the Qalandari clan bit a burro belonging to the Chakrani clan. The dog was believed to be rabid, and the donkey died. This caused the two clans to begin fighting with one another, eventually leading to the deaths of 13 people: 11 Qalandaris and and 2 Chakranis.

• In 2002, the then chief of the tribe Nawab Akbar Jan Bugti, in order to stop the murders organized by the Chakranis (owners of the donkey), fined them 4 million rupies (some 40,000 Euros) plus the delivery of one girl per month. He fined the Qalandaris, owners of the rabid dog, 12,000 Euros. The Chakranis did not accept.

• The chief Jan Bugti was murdered in 2006 by Pakistani secret services. The problem was then brought before the yirga to find a definitive solution. The yirga decided that the girls would be payment for the debt of blood and their sacrifice would seal the reconciliation between the two feuding clans.

• Fortunately, more progressive members of Pakistani society have raised concerns about the decision made by the yirga. The case was brought to light by the Karachi daily newspaper Dawn. Such "deals" essentially convert girls into their husbands' slaves, a situation in which many Pakistani women in tribal and rural communities live, where women and girls are forced by their families to marry strangers.

• With the story broken by Dawn, the Pakistani Commission for Human Rights has not only asked that the decision be annulled, but also called for the immediate incarceration of all of the members that participated in the yirga, as well as all of those who were in agreement with paying with minor girls for the solution of the tribal debt.

The article continued with the several clarifications:
• Islamic religious law as well as the Pakistani civil law both prohibit child marriages. (According to sharia law, it states, women may only marry after puberty. The civil law does not permit marriage before sixteen years of age.)

• Antonia Paradela, speaking on behalf of UNICEF in Pakistan, commented that one positive thing that came from this horror was that each day the consciousness of the Pakistani society against such barbarism was growing.

• One of the greatest problems that Pakistan faces is the kidnapping of minors for purposes of selling, marrying or prostituting, both within and without the country. Since 2000, there are some 6,886 such cases, although some estimates might be 10 times that number.

• Boys are included in those 6,886 cases, many of whom are kidnapped and sold to rich monarchies and emirates in the Persian Gulf area for between 300 and 4,000 Euros. They frequently work as camel racers, some kids being kidnapped as young as 4 years of age. They are subjected to strenuous training, the child jockeys frequently not receiving enough food in order to slow their growth and weight gain.

[Submitted by kmacginn via Hummers & Cigarettes.]

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