Virtual Slavery: The Practice of “Compensation Marriages”
“Everyday they beat me for petty issues apparently in revenge for the murder”
--Zainab Bibi, victim of a
compensation marriage at the age of 1, from
What is a “Compensation Marriage”?
This ancient custom, prevalent in
Denied Fundamental Human Rights
The real victim of this ancient custom is not the aggrieved family, but the girl, forced to pay for the “sins” of her family. Denied her basic human rights—and even a proper marriage—she bears the stigma of shame for the rest of her life, short as that may ultimately be.
Investigations undertaken by Amnesty International find that many of these girls end up in abusive relationships, with no status and no rights of redress within the society. The number of girls and young women victimized by this custom is not known, but investigators consider it be in the tens of thousands. The number of girls killed or maimed as a result of compensation marriages is another unknown.
Violation of Islamic law
Compensation marriages are common in
One person who is speaking out against Swara is Samar Minullah, an anthropologist and director of Ethnomedia, a Pakistan-based NGO that works on behalf of women’s rights. In 2003, Ms. Minullah made a highly charged and emotional documentary film in order to draw public attention to the practice and persuade policy makers in the Northwest tribal areas to finally recognize the problem and act to eliminate it.
So far nothing has happened. According to Ms. Minullah, policy makers, who could have outlawed the practice, have shown no interest in stopping it. They prefer to let such ‘traditional practices’ to continue. According to Amnesty International, the Pakistan Penal Code prohibits the sale and forced marriage of underage girls, but in the lawless Northwest, such laws are brazenly ignored and remain un-enforced.
Child Marriages on the Increase
According to Amnesty International the practice seems to be on the increase in countries where young girls or adolescents are routinely married off—either because the family is poor and needs money—or because of the perceived need to mollify a rival tribe or family for the loss of a male member.
Early marriages take a terrible toll on young lives. The
maternal mortality ratio in
Dr. Sayed Mohamed Amin Fatimi, the Afghan Public Health Minister
stated flatly: “Fifty to seventy mothers die every day from birth
complications, which is a silent tsunami for
UNFPA Tackles Violence against Women
The international community needs to act in concert to combat compensation marriages and other practices that erode the rights of girls and young women.
In countries where compensation marriages are common, the following steps need to be taken:
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 IRIN, UN
Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, “
 IPS, Inter
Press Service News Agency, “
 Op. cit. 1.
 Op. cit. 3.
 UNFPA, “