Forced Marriages: A Hugely Unreported Issue

A woman found guilty of taking her 17-year-old daughter to Pakistan for a forced marriage was sentenced to four-and-a-half years in prison by a British court. This was a landmark judgment by all accounts. However, one can only wonder when such a precedent will set in Pakistan. How many more girls like Sana Cheema will have to die to escape forced marriages. The case of Sana Cheema is just a tip of the iceberg. Thousands of girls are forced into wedlock due to family and financial pressures.

Britain’s Forced Marriage Unit (FMU) recorded 1,428 cases in 2016, out of which Pakistan accounts for 612 cases. These statistics represents the overall patriarchal structure of a Pakistani society. Unfortunately, forced marriages in Pakistan are hugely unreported issue. Such cases only become talk of the town when these marriages result in some horrendous crimes such as suicide or murder. There are several reasons behind low reporting of forced marriages. Usually girls who are coerced in non-consensual wed locks are either threatened to stay quiet or they are emotionally blackmailed to accept the horrors of forced marital relation as their fate. The dilemma of taking legal action against one’s own family particularly parents or siblings add to fears of the victim. Another major reason of the increased ratio of forced marriages in Pakistan is the unawareness pertaining to women rights. There are several laws that prohibit coerced marriages in Pakistan.

According to Punjab Child Marriage Restraint Act 2015, any person marrying a girl of less than 16 years of age and the person conducting such marriage, including the Nikkah Solemnizer and Nikkah Registrar shall be liable for imprisonment up to 6 months and fine Rs: 50,000. Customs like Wanni and marriage in lieu of compromise, or marriage with the Holy Quran are illegal, liable for imprisonment for 3 to 7 years and fine of Rs: 500,000 as per S.310-A, 498-C Pakistan Penal Code. Furthermore, a person forcibly marrying a girl against her will is liable to be punished with imprisonment for 3 to 7 years and a fine of Rs: 500,000 according to S.498-B Pakistan Penal Code.

It is unfortunate that one hardly ever hears successful conviction of such cases especially in Pakistan. This indicates that the government and society needs to do more in this regard. Social pressures, financial strains, patriarchal structure of law enforcing bodies makes it more difficult for a forced marriage victim to fight for her rights. This doesn’t approve of suffering silently just because the path is tough. One cannot emphasize enough that it is essential for the victims to raise their voice against what is religiously, morally, ethically, socially and lawfully wrong. Standing against all the odds is definitely going to be hard. The society might shun you. Your family and friends might look down upon you. You might have to face financial and social pressures. Still, these hardships are worth standing for what is right.

Marriage is one of the most significant structures of a society. There is no doubt that one can’t build a great structure on weak foundation.  The foundation of marriage should be based on trust, honesty and proper consent. Without these essential elements, the chances of creating a healthy relationship are very low. One wrong will always leads to another wrong. Coerced marriages often lead to unthinkable consequences. Physical, mental and sexual abuse are common results of such marriages. Sadly, the evil of forced marriage and its dreadful consequences are an open secret in our society. It is the responsibility of the society as a whole to untie the patriarchal threads that are suffocating thousands of unheard sighs of women.

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