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Married to Injustice

by Hina Shahid

September 1, 2006

It is a sad state of affairs in this country that even after 59 years of its existence, Pakistan suffers from the same chronic malady of feudalism and dictatorship, two ailments that have totally paralyzed all its progress and development at every level. Due to these two reasons, any semblance of the rule of the people, and other democratic concepts, stand null and void. One after the other, military junta and feudal lords keep on ruling the country, which has literally stopped all community work in the country, along with the continued retrogression of the welfare of the people. Proper elections have always been demanded by all and sundry, but eventually what happens is that elections are only means to display the power of the three key players of this game: army, landlords and the bureaucracy. The clever generals recognized that with the help of the feudal lords, and the bureaucracy, the people of this country could be easily pressurized and bonded to work for their own advantage. Today, the situation is such that on the one side, most of the population is on the edge of hunger, deprivation and extreme poverty. The tenant farmers are landless, and on the other hand, the military has become the biggest landowner in the country. Army, in collusion with the bureaucrats and the feudal lords, have terribly damaged the country. All manners of evil customs and wrong practices have taken over the life, especially in the rural areas.

The whole country is in the grip of abusive behaviour and evil customs towards women, with things like Karokari, Vanni, Watta Satta, honour-killing, slave-wives, internal and external trafficking, marriages with Qur'an and child marriages. Women are still the most afflicted lot of the whole country, where they are killed for religious ceremony and sacrificial blood. Thousands of innocent girls aged between 3-7 are given in marriages to males of around 30-60 years of age to become a part of a suffering multitude to remain, unregistered and unaccounted. Members of their own families throw these girls into a hell of slavery and non-existence. A large number of money is involved in selling young girls into marriages, against their will.

Sakina, married at the age of four, a rural girl from the province Sindh was subjected to years of beatings and torture. Now at the age of eleven Sakina remembers that how her father-in-law growled at her to gaze the cattle in out fields and come back soon as he gets hungry too fast. She has beautiful eyes and a full and animated smile. She is stoic for the most part, pausing only a few times to wipe her eyes and nose with her dupatta. Her story begins in the village of rural Sindh. There was no slide, swing or merry-go-round in her childhood. "When I was three years old my father died, and after a year my mother became too ill," says Sakina. "So my mother gave me away in a promise of marriage to our neighbour's oldest son, who was thirty. Because she was still a child, the marriage was not expected to be sexually consummated. But within a year, Sakina learned that so much else would be required of her that she would become a virtual slave in the household. At the age of five, she was forced to take care of not only her husband but also his parents and all eight of their other children as well. Though nearly the entire family participated in the abuse, her father-in-law, she says, is the cruelest.

"I am asked to do everything-laundry, the household chores, rope making-and the only time I am able to sleep in the house is when they have guests over," she says.

There were even times when the family's abuse of Sakina exceeded the bounds of the most wanton, sadistic cruelty, as on the occasions when they used her to fetch water from a walk of around three hours. "They beat me with wires and sticks," she says, "mostly on the legs. My father-in-law told his other children to do it that way. He said to them, "break her bones". "It was so painful," says Sakina, dabbing her eyes with her dupatta and sniffing for a moment. "I was crying and screaming the entire time".

With 158 million people and a population growth rate of 2.1% (UNFPA, 2005), Pakistan is among the most populous and also among the poorest countries in the world. Insecurity, vulnerability and deprivation define poverty in Pakistan. Around 66% of the total population is living below poverty line (Population Reference Bureau, 2005). Poverty is alone linked with poor sexual reproductive health (SRH). The low level of knowledge about SRH and of access to services are illustrated in the high maternal mortality ratio of 500 deaths per 100,000 live births (UNFPA, 2005). The under five-child mortality rate is 102 for males and 112 for females, which reflects negative societal attitudes towards female children. Early marriage is followed by early and closely spaced pregnancies, resulting in high levels of maternal mortality and morbidity. Access to education and health care in most of the villages of rural areas is denied to women. Poverty and extreme poverty affects women and children more severely than the rest of the population. Their poverty indicators are generally above the average. Steps taken by many organizations to stop child marriages, which is a down trodden culture of the country do not sufficiently tailor the children's need.

Among many unforgettable moments in the year 2005, a rape of a four-year-old girl can not be torn from the pages of the history. The brother-in-law of the child tortured, abused and poked her one eye. Rabia, the residence of one of the shantytown at Karachi, was admitted in the government hospital after fifteen days of her rape. Her condition was too serious as most of her Gynea parts were damaged. . But this was so unfortunate that the civil society representatives could only maintained little protests for her. Only few organizations and individuals managed medical help for the girl. The poor and neglected girl got attention of her family when each part of her body gradually went numb. The state as usual set the culprit free under the fake and discriminatory laws that exists against the women. The press and the electronic media highlighted the incident and brought the issue on the surface but the state did not give any attention to the child or the family. After few days no one remembered her and her apathy. It has always been a practice in Pakistan whether it is honour killing, violence, rape or harassment, women and girls are at the suffering edge. Like Rabia there are so many other girls who have dreams to go to school and see the flag of Pakistan being hoisted each year on 14th August.

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