Brides by Birth

It is almost every girl’s dream to become a bride in a country like Pakistan while women are still not fully given the right to choose who they marry. Even though local religion allows you to choose, the cultural restraints are otherwise. The girls are brought up to believe that they are to leave their parents home one day only to go to the groom’s home, and she is not to return from their until ‘her funeral.’ This is a very common expression in Pakistan.

Up until now I thought it was an idea that mostly prevailed in rural and sub-urban and less developed parts of the country (where I come from as well) where women were most suppressed members of the society, no matter what province you are in. I was almost convinced that the situation is a lot better in cities where women are more educated and even allowed to work. But that is not completely true I came to realize. On a private visit to Lahore, had the chance to live with a friend from the city for the first time within Pakistan. She had two adorable daughters aged 2 and 4. Those two children took me by surprise when they said they want to be brides just like mama when they grow up.* I personally do not remember wanting to be a bride at that age or even till much later. The goals and values you are given as woman in this society are just downright absurd, I thought. How can you, at such tender age, when you do not even know the meaning of the words being used, be influenced by such indoctrination already and how will it further affect our childrens’ (read girl’s) growth and development.

I have worked with women in remote areas of the Punjab province where there is an issue of child marriage, a custom where a child gets married to another child or even an adult with the family’s consent. The factors leading to such a practice are numerous (like exchange marriages, settlement of disputes by offering women, family property etc) but this practice still exists despite laws being introduced to counter it. It is so deeply rooted within the local culture.

This somewhat ‘forced marriages’ in both urban and rural areas where one can be psychological as in case of my friend’s daughters and one physical/actual have both become equally disturbing to me now. It hurts to find out that our cities are not very different from our villages and the same goes for the overall situation of the women!

*We have no concept of having children out of wedlock as that against the law and customary practices and would trigger a violent reaction from both the family and the society.

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