‘TWO jirgas decide fate of four girls’ — this headline in yesterday’s edition of the paper masks a universe of suffering and pain. Variations of it are printed with disturbing frequency in other newspapers too. In one of the cases reported yesterday and pertaining to the Sukkur/Shikarpur area in interior Sindh, a man accused of having had illicit relations with the wife (subsequently killed) of another man was ordered by a tribal court to hand over his two sisters and a niece to the aggrieved family under the ‘sang chatti’ custom (also known as swara or vani). Currently underage, the girls are to be handed over once they reach puberty. In the second case, a jirga in Khairpur district settled a ‘free-will marriage’ dispute by ordering a 13-year-old girl to be immediately handed over in marriage to a 50-year-old man. The police have been directed to register cases and make arrests.
The victims can technically be protected by more than one law including child protection laws and the Prevention of Anti-Women Practices Act 2011, which specifically lays out punishments for giving females in marriage to settle disputes. Jirgas themselves have been actively discouraged or banned, as in Sindh. Yet the detestable practice remains as entrenched as ever. This is partly because while there is much talk of the law in urban areas, it is not so easy to implement these in the dark hinterlands where state justice is elusive. What is needed is effective and prohibitive implementation. In the two cases, the names of the men convening the jirgas are known. They must be pursued, and made to face justice. Until the majority of men in the country are aware that the abuse of women is criminalised and that violators will face the full force of the law little real change will be forthcoming.