The More Things Change the More they...
The Guardian, By Declan Walsh, Thursday, June 5, 2008
It started with a dead dog, escalated into a tit-for-tat tribal war,
and has now reached a grotesque climax with the exchange of 15 child
Pakistani human rights activists are outraged at reports that a
long-running blood feud in a remote corner of western Baluchistan
province has been resolved by the handing over of 15 girls, aged
between three and 10, for marriage.
"There has to be action," said Asma Jahangir, a leading rights
campaigner. "These people who force others to sell their daughters
must be sent to prison."
The new government in Islamabad, led by the party of the late Benazir
Bhutto, has promised to act. "We will not allow young girls to be
traded like this," said the information minister, Sherry Rehman. "The
culprits who tried to do this will be arrested. The orders have been
But Jahangir said those orders had not been acted upon. "There is a
dysfunction in the whole system. They are not listening to the
government," she said. "We need to see them being more effective than
Vanni, an ancient tribal practice in which feuding clans settle their
differences by exchanging women for marriage, is illegal in Pakistan.
In 2004 the Sindh high court outlawed all such "parallel justice"
systems. But the writ of government is weak in rural areas, and local
police often turn a blind eye.
The current controversy started with a row over a dog, said Muhammad
Paryal Marri, a researcher in northern Sindh for the Human Rights
Commission of Pakistan.
A dog owned by one tribe, the Chakranis, was shot dead because it
strayed too close to a well controlled by their rivals, the
Qalandaris. In revenge the Chakranis shot a donkey belonging to the
other side. A ferocious bout of tit-for-tat killings ensued in which
19 people, including five women, were killed.
The fighting ended in 2002 when Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti - a rebellious
tribal chieftain who was later killed by the Pakistan army - brought
the two sides together. Bugti ordered the Chakranis to hand over 15
child brides in compensation; at a jirga, or tribal council. Last
Friday they finally agreed to make good on that promise, said Marri.
"They agreed to pay some money and exchange the ladies," he said.
Such brutal traditions have only come to light for a broader public in
the past decade, thanks to activism by human rights groups and
publicity from local media.
"Barbarity in the name of tradition," declared the English-langauge
newspaper Dawn earlier this week in a scathing editorial against the
"medieval mindset that dominates many sections of our society".
But, despite previous shows of similar anger, official action has
lagged far behind. "The government is unwilling to use its authority
to protect women. It will find any excuse," said Jahangir.