A court here has sent six persons to jail for forcibly trying to marry two minor girls under ‘Swara’, a child marriage custom prevalent in tribal areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The custom is linked to blood feuds among different tribes and clans and involves the forcible marriage of young girls to members of rival clans to resolve feuds.

The district and sessions judge of Shangla district on Wednesday issued notices against the six and sent them to jail for the ‘Swara’ of one-and-half-year-old Kainat and 11-year-old Hameeda in the northwestern Malakand division.

It also directed the district police chief to register a case against a man named Gul Muhammad, elders of the tribal jirga or council and ‘Nikah Khwan’ for arranging the illegal weddings and submit a report within three days.

According to the local residents, the issue pertains to a dispute between Azam Khan and Gul Muhammad.

Azam Khan allegedly abducted Gul Muhammad’s sister and killed her after she refused to marry him. He was supported by Sharif, Karim Khan, Sawab Khan, Umer Khan and Jan Muhammad in kidnapping the girl.

Gul Muhammad subsequently registered a murder case in Chakesar police station. Police arrested one of the accused, Jan Muhammad, while the rest went into hiding and was sent to jail while the other obtained bail before arrest from court.

At the same time, tribal elders launched efforts to arrange a patch-up between the two groups and held a jirga.

In a draft agreement for reconciliation, both sides agreed that the accused would pay Rs 1 lakh as compensation to Muhammad and the two girls — Kainat, the daughter of accused Sawab Khan and Bibi Hameeda — would be married to Gul Muhammad’s son Muhammad Rashad and another man.

The accused appeared in court on Wednesday to inform the judge about their patch-up and for the confirmation of their bail.

However, the court dismissed their plea for confirmation of bail and sent all of the accused to jail when it came to know that the two would be given in ‘Swara’ as part of the arrangement.

The custom is most common among Pashtuns. Samar Minallah, an anthropologist and an expert on ‘Swara’, said the prevalence of this custom in Pashtun society can be gauged from the fact that 60 cases of ‘Swara’ were recorded in three months in Mardan and Swabi, two districts of Northwest Frontier Province.

These two districts are not part of the Provincially Administered Tribal Areas, where, according to experts, the custom is even more commonly practised.

Under an act passed in January 2005, the federal government made the handing over of girls to rival groups for settling disputes a penal offence. A section was inserted in the Pakistan Penal Code to provide for imprisonment for up to 10 years for the offences related to ‘Swara’.

In a prominent judgement in November 2000, the Peshawar High Court declared ‘Swara’ as “inhuman” and “un-Islamic”.

However, until the laws are extended to the provincial tribal areas, the practitioners of such marriages cannot be punished.

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