July 21, 2020
By Farzana Ali
A 12-year-old child bride passed away under mysterious circumstances only three days after her marriage in Dir on Sunday.
Naila, a victim of child marriage, was found dead in her room just days after her wedding. The incident occurred in Mohabbat Koto, a small village located in Samarbagh area of Lower Dir.
Local police officers shifted the child’s body to Tehsil Headquarters Hospital (THQ), Samarbagh and initiated an investigation after registering the FIR. The FIR states that Naila’s stepmother gave her ‘unidentified pills’ on her wedding day.
However, the authorities are still waiting on her postmortem report to confirm what caused Naila’s sudden death. Since Muhabbat Kotto does not have the required facilities, her body had to be shifted to Peshawar for a postmortem.
“I married Naila’s father for love,” explained Gul Sabeen, Naila’s stepmother. “Naila’s biological mother never approved of the union so she went back to her parent’s house shortly afterwards, taking Naila with her,” she added.
“But when Naila’s mother remarried, she sent the child to live with us again,” Gul Sabeen told Voicepk.net. When asked about the tablets, Gul Sabeen said she had given her stepdaughter Panadol and Pentacil, tablets that she frequently used as pain relievers herself. “I am being accused only because I am a stepmother,” Gul asserted.
But Naila’s grandfather Sardar Khan disagrees.
“We had to marry Naila off precisely because of the abuse she was facing at the hands of her stepmother Gul Sabeen,” said Khan.
Speaking about the incident, Naila’s father in law Wazir Khan said, ” We took her (Naila) in to protect her from abuse. How was I supposed to know that she is so sick that she will die within three days?”
Amanullah, Naila’s husband, is a 13-year-old madrassah student. When asked about the incident, Amanullah replied that he never even saw his bride.
According to details, the two children, Naila (12) got engaged to Amanullah (13) four months ago when her family decided that an early marriage was the only way to keep her from being ‘mistreated’ by her stepmother. Afterwards, the adolescent girl was bundled off to her in-law’s house.
Muhabbat Kotto is an extremely desolate area with no direct access to the main road. There is no school in the area. For this reason, most of the boys go to the neighbouring Laal Qilla for education or attend local seminaries (madrassahs)
There is no avenue at all for girls’ education. In such an environment, it is no surprise that there is a widespread acceptance of child marriages.
That is why, even though local politicians and leaders have come out against Naila’s murder, they are unwilling to discuss the role of child marriages in this tragedy.
“Murder is a crime and the criminals should be punished under Article 302 of the PPC but this case should not be made about child marriages, it is the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, not the United States after all,” remarked Inayatullah Khan, a local Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) leader while discussing the tragic incident.
Child marriage, particularly early marriage of female children, is a prevalent problem across Pakistan. According to UNICEF, in 2017, around 21 percent of Pakistani girls were married off before their 18th birthday .
The Child Marriage Restraint Act (1929) was introduced to set a minimum age of marriage. According to this Act, the age of marriage for boys is 18 years while for girls it is 16 years. In April 2014, the Sindh Assembly passed the Sindh Child Marriage Restraint Act that changed the minimum age of marriage to 18 for both boys and girls.
Despite Pakistan being expected to implement the Sustainable Development Goals (number 8 concerns elimination of child marriages), KP still has no law pertaining to this, let alone eliminate it. A bill to raise the minimum age of marriage and introduce harsher penalties for child marriage has been pending in the province for over a year.
On another note, KP is also the only province of Pakistan that has not introduced a law against domestic violence either.
Meanwhile, as investigation proceeds, the mystery of the death hangs in the air – but the issue of child marriages lives on in absence of better laws and implementation.