“Despite the placing on Pakistan’s statute books of tougher laws against the practice of ‘swara’ or the ‘giving away’ of a woman to a rival party to settle a dispute, the tradition continues.
“The women’s rights advocacy organization Rahnuma, which guides victims, describes ‘swara’ as a practice “where a girl is given as an offering to `settle’ a conflict or dispute.” The practice is most common in Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa Province (KP) and the southern Punjab, where it is known as ‘vani’, but also takes place in other parts of the country.
“A ‘swara’ exchange can be used to settle murder, adultery (a crime under the law), kidnapping or another offence. [...]
“‘Yes, the laws have helped but “swara,” “vani” and similar practices still go on,’ [activist Samar] Minallah told IRIN. ‘Estimates based on newspaper reports indicate there are hundreds of cases each year. Of course, there are many others which do not get reported,’ she said.
“She also said that tougher laws and arrests made under them had ‘led to people disguising the handing over of a woman or girl. The deal is not announced within the community as a “swara” or “vani” marriage, though within the families concerned it is known that the woman has been given away as “swara” and is treated accordingly,’ Minallah said.
“While ‘swara’ brides are wed to the men they are given to, these men are usually far older than the ‘brides,’ who are often mere children.
“The girls are also usually treated extremely badly or ‘like slaves,” according to Minallah, in the home of their in-laws.
“Other ‘traditional’ practices also harm women. According to the autonomous Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRPC), there were 943 ‘honour killings’ in 2011. An ‘honour killing,’ according to HRCP, involves the murder of a woman who is deemed to have let down her family, or ‘dishonoured’ it in some way. This can involve an act such as alleged adultery, a marriage decided on by the woman herself or other trivial matters. Couples choosing to wed by choice frequently end up having to go on the run, as in a recent case reported in the media from Karachi in June this year.
“The kinds of threat women face was illustrated by a recent case from the remote Kohistan District of KP where four women were sentenced to death by a local ‘jirga’ (gathering of tribal elders) after being caught on video clapping as two men unrelated to them danced at a wedding.
“‘Custom’ or “tradition” also works against women in other ways.
“According to figures presented at a seminar in Karachi by the Family Planning Association of Pakistan, 30 percent of all marriages in the country are child marriages though the law bars the marriage of a girl under 16 or a boy under 18.”