Swara practised with impunity in tribal areas
By Akhtar Amin
PESHAWAR: With laws banning swara and child marriages not applicable in the federally and provincially administered tribal areas, the custom continues to be practised in this region, destroying the lives of hundreds of girls.
According to Samar Minnalah, anthropologist and an expert on swara, the prevalence of this custom in Pukhtoon society can be gauged from the fact that 60 cases of swara were recorded in three months in just two NWFP districts, Mardan and Swabi.
And these two districts are not even in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) or the Provincially Administered Tribal Areas (PATA), where, according to experts, the custom is even more commonly practised.
Under an act passed on January 11, 2005, the federal government made the handing over girls to rival groups for settling of disputes a penal offence. Section 310-A was inserted in the Pakistan Penal Code, which provides for imprisonment for up to ten years for the offence of giving females in swara.
The law is not applicable in FATA or PATA. In August 2006, the Peshawar High Court granted bail to a prayer leader and four other people charged with handing over a three-month baby girl in Swara to a rival family on the grounds that the laws were not extendable to PATA.
Advocate Esa Khan, who appeared for the accused, told Daily Times: “The laws prevalent in the rest of the country are not applicable to FATA and PATA under Article 247 of the Constitution, unless the president and the governor, respectively, issue notifications extending the law to these areas.”
In a prominent judgment on November 29, 2000, the PHC declared the custom inhuman and un-Islamic, but until the laws were not extended to the federal and provincial tribal areas, the practitioners of forced child marriages could not be punished.
Seven out of 24 districts of the NWFP are situated in PATA: Upper and Lower Dir, Swat, Chitral, Buner, Shangla and Malakand. There are seven tribal agencies and six frontier regions in FATA.
Ms Minnalah, whose publication ‘Swara’, the first qualitative research on the rural custom, was launched at the Peshawar Press Club on Saturday, describes the cruelty that swara girls go through: “In acknowledgement of its guilt, a group hands over one or more of their girls to their rivals. A swara girl is just given food and clothing, and not allowed to take part in social gatherings and family rituals. Swara is a human right abuse which still exists. It is a social crime, which is not restricted to a region or two. In other parts, it is practiced with other names such as vanni, sang chatti, sakh, khoon baha, stan, mayaar and laaf,” she said.