ISLAMABAD, Dec 16: The Supreme Court on Friday ordered the inspectors-general of the NWFP and Punjab to protect women in their respective provinces being given in marriage as ransom under unIslamic customs of ‘Vani’ and ‘Sawara’.

A three-member bench comprising Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, Justice M. Javed Buttar and Justice Tassadduq Hussain Jillani also directed the District Police Officer (DPO) of Mianwali to provide security to five girls and submit compliance report before the court.

The court was jointly hearing the case of five girls from Mianwali who have appealed to President Gen Pervez Musharraf and the chief justice of Pakistan to save them from the cruel social rite of Vani and the petition of a freelance anthropologist, Samar Minallah, against the custom of Sawara (a dispute settlement in which, instead of money, young girls of offender’s family is given in marriage to victim’s family as a compensation for the crime committed by male family members).

The Supreme Court decided to take up again the matter next year on February 24 after Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) president Malik Mohammad Qayyum sought time to research the customs of Vani prevailing in Mianwali district and identical customs in other provinces under which fundamental rights of women were being denied.

Advocate Syed Mansoor Ali Shah, representing Samar Minallah, requested for urgent hearing in view of incidents reported in different parts of the country.

Samar Minallah also presented a recorded compact disc (CD) containing interview of a ten-year-old Norrina of Swat (NWFP) who was forced to stay a night in victim’s family without solemnization of marriage. “This is an accepted custom in the province,” she deplored.

She also stressed the need to sensitize lawmakers about the ills of Sawara by citing an example of Nowshera where in 2004, a daughter of a watchman was given under Sawara. Ironically the jirga (council of elders) which settled the matter comprised naib nazims and former parliamentarians.

Referring to Vani, the court noted that Amina, Sajida and Abida have threatened to commit suicide if they were not protected from the unconstitutional and unIslamic custom.

Asiya, 8, Amina, 9, Abida, 7, Sajida, 5, and Fatima, 7, were married off in their childhood in a compromise of murder to save their elders.

Samar Minallah in her petition requested the court to declare illegal the handing over of a woman as compensation in any form of settlement and that marriage under the custom of Sawara did not constitute marriage under the law.

She had also requested the court to declare that jirga decision in such cases had no legal value as they violate fundamental rights besides section 310(1) (compounding of Qisas) of the Pakistan Penal Code was unconstitutional.

She also sought a direction from the court to ensure that Sawara custom should be banned immediately and the victims be released to lead a new life in accordance with the constitution.

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