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ISLAMABAD, April 24: The Supreme Court on Monday ordered the Punjab police chief to take action against members of a ‘punchayat’ who ordered that a three-year-old girl be given in marriage to a 14-year-old boy and a woman be married to younger brother of her alleged rapist under the customs of vani and sawara.

A bench comprising Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, Justice Abdul Hameed Dogar and Justice Syed Saiyed Ashhad directed the police chief to report if any action had been taken against the man to whom a complainant, Qureshia Bibi, had been forced to marry.

The court was hearing complaints and a petition filed by anthropologist Samar Minallah against the custom of sawara.

The Pakpattan district police officer was directed to provide protection to Qureshia Bibi.

The chief justice formed committees in all the district and tehsils comprising the presidents and secretaries-general of bar associations to receive complaints from victims of vani or sawara and initiate action, through sessions judges, for registration of cases against offenders.

All the sessions judges and district police officers were directed to cooperate with the committees.

The federal government was asked to amend Section 310 of the Pakistan Penal Code or the Family Act, 1964, to provide for dissolution of marriages of women given in vani or sawara.

Punjab Assistant Advocate-General Afshan Ghazanfar had told the court that no mechanism existed for dissolution of such marriages.

The chief justice read out the complaint of Qureshia Bibi of Arifwala, who stated that she had been raped by her cousin Aslam, after which the accused managed to arrange a meeting of the village council comprising Mohammad Wali, Mohammad Zaman, Mohammad Amin and Mohammad Tufail.

On Jan 31, 2006, the punchayat decided that the victim should marry Aslam’s younger brother while her 14-year-old brother Ramzan was married to three-year-old Saadia, daughter of the accused, as vani.

“It seems the menace has spread all over the country,” the CJ observed.

Advocate Syed Mansoor Ali Shah contended that after the court took up the matter, a marked change had been noticed in the society and a large number of women had come out of bondage.

He suggested formation of committees under the supervision of the apex court, saying that even unborn girls were being given as vani or sawara but police were not taking any action to stop the practice.

Samar Minallah told the court that seven women in Kullar Kot, Bhakkar district, and 10 in the NWFP had been recovered.

The hearing was adjourned till May 15.