Education, self-awareness are key to fight forced marriages in Pakistan
By Moritz Dapper and Edoardo Giribaldi
"If a girl is not financially stable, she is dependent on her family, and it's very hard for her to take such steps."
Madiha Shah, a young social scientist from Pakistan, living at the border with Afghanistan, presented the issue of arranged and forced marriages in her country based on a series of data gathered as part of her bachelor's degree studies.
Arranged and forced marriages
"I looked at what family members think of arranged marriages," Ms. Shah explained. Specifically, she interviewed women forced to get married and some of them who eventually got divorced.
"The most common are arranged marriages, where parents, or the elderly members of the family, decide with whom the boy or the girl will get married," the researcher affirmed.
There are also cousin marriages, "where the elderly members of the family decide with whom the daughter or the son will get married within the family itself."
Minorities and rural areas
The practice of forced marriage mainly involves young girls who are part of minority groups. For example, "Christian, Hindu, Ahmadis, or Kalash," usually living in "rural areas."
If a man wants to marry a girl "without her permission, but also of her parents, he takes her and converts her to Islam."
"This happens for many reasons," but mainly because "the man wants to have children, who will become workers" once they grow up.
According to Ms. Shah, Pakistan has laws on forced marriage and even forced conversion.
However, these laws lack any implementation in the country's rural areas.
Education and self-awareness
The solution is to "raise awareness on these kinds of topics in different parts of Pakistan, through religious dialogues" but also rely on education and "training on self-awareness."
It is fundamental, according to the researcher, "to involve the young generations" and explain to them why forced marriages "are a big problem in the country."
In the meantime, young women can find help in feminist groups, which also provide a frame and concrete data regarding "thousands of young girls converted and forced into marriage in Pakistan."
Sometimes, however, even looking for help is difficult. "If a girl is not financially stable and is dependent on her family, then it's tough for her to take such kinds of steps," Shah affirmed.