EACH year on Nov 25, the international women’s day, commitments are made by the government to eliminate violence against the fair sex, but the abuse still persists in the society in different forms.

There are several inhuman customary practices in vogue in the society, which till recent past were considered sacred. One such customary practice is that of swara through which years old feuds are settled by handing over females in marriages to the rival family.

Recently, the Peshawar High Court took exception to a jirga decision regarding handing over of two sisters under the centuries old custom of swara to a rival family for settling a dispute. A bench of the court directed the district police officer (DPO) of Buner District to provide protection to the two females and to take action against the members of the said jirga.

A two-member bench comprising Justice Dost Muhammad Khan and Justice Yahya Afridi issued the order on Nov 23, while hearing a writ petition filed by the two sisters, Ms Basmeena and Ms Ghasiba, who claimed that the controversial decision was taken by the jirga 17 years ago. The petitioners claimed that their rivals had now been forcing the petitioners’ family to arrange their marriage with male members of the rival group.

The court observed that neither Islam nor laws of Pakistan allow such inhuman and brutal customary practice. It was observed that the court would never allow any jirga to resort to such practices.

Presently, the high court is also seized with another case wherein acquittal of 15 persons, charged in a case of taking away two minor sisters in swara, by a trial court is challenged. The court had in April last admitted to full hearing a criminal appeal filed by an appellant, Nadan Khan, who is grand father of the two girls.

The appellant alleged that the two sisters -- Ms Sumera, who was aged 11, and Ms Bushra, who was about 13 -- were allegedly taken away from their home at gunpoint and forcibly married to two brothers, on pretext of settling a dispute which originated over alleged illicit relations of their father with the mother of the said two boys.

The girls have now been residing with the appellant, their paternal grandfather, as they had retuned home two months after the occurrence which allegedly took place on the night between April 19 and 20, 2008, at Dag Besud village in District Nowshera. The accused persons were acquitted on Feb 15, 2010 by an additional district and sessions judge in Nowshera.

Till few years back no provision was available in the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) to check the marriages talking place under swara. In 2004, the Parliament passed the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act through which various amendments were made in the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) and the PPC under which the practice of giving females in badal-i-sulah (as exchange of peace) was declared a penal offence.

Section 310A was inserted in the PPC and this custom is now an offence punishable up to ten years imprisonment but not less then three years imprisonment.

However, despite passage of around six years the law fails to provide the desired results. Legal experts believe that the government should either enact a separate law or incorporate comprehensive provisions regarding banning of swara and identical practices of vani. They believe that adding a single provision in the PPC would not serve the purpose.

Another important point with the said provision is that the Criminal law (Amendment) Act, 2005, has not yet been extended to Fata and Pata. Under the Constitution, no law of Parliament is applicable in Fata unless the president issues a separate notification in that regard. Similarly, a law is not applicable to Pata unless the governor of the province issues a notification.

While in the past swara cases have been reported from different districts of Pata, it is necessary to extend the law there.

Updated Nov 29, 2010 03:56am

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