Child brides sold into sex slavery, domestic work, say Indian officials

The number of girls getting married in India has fallen by nearly half in the past decade, but 27 percent of all brides are still below age 18, according to UNICEF. (Reuters)
Updated 01 May 2018
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Child brides sold into sex slavery, domestic work, say Indian officials

  • Discrimination against girls remains widespread, particularly in rural and poor communities where parents often view daughters as financial burdens and continue to marry them off early
  • Campaigners say it is difficult to convince many people that the tradition of child marriage is wrong

MUMBAI: Girls are being trafficked into domestic servitude or sex slavery after their parents illegally marry them off, said officials in the Indian state of Maharashtra on Tuesday.
Researchers are conducting the state’s first survey into links between child marriage and slavery, according to Vijaya Rahatkar, chairperson of Maharashtra’s women’s commission.
The legal age of marriage in India is 18 for women and 21 for men. Parents face a fine of 100,000 rupees ($1,535) and two years in prison if they are caught trying to marry off their underage children.
But discrimination against girls remains widespread, particularly in rural and poor communities where parents often view daughters as financial burdens and continue to marry them off early.
“Many of these marriages do not last, and we have now seen cases where there are direct and indirect linkages to trafficking,” Rahatkar told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Rahatkar said her commission decided to carry out the survey after receiving reports of child brides enslaved in households and sold into brothels.
After one such report, authorities rescued a girl who had been married off and then forced to work without wages on a farm, where she was abused and tied up so she did not run away.
The findings of the survey, currently underway in districts that report high rates of child marriage, will be shared with various state governments, said Rahatkar.
There has been a “complete vacuum in the research space on trafficking and child marriage,” said Adrian Phillips of the anti-trafficking group Justice and Care.
The research is expected to provide data that will expose connections between the two crimes, said Phillips, whose group has partnered with the women’s commission to conduct the survey.
The number of girls getting married in India has fallen by nearly half in the past decade, the United Nations children’s agency, UNICEF, said in March. But 27 percent of all brides are still below age 18, according to UNICEF.
Campaigners say it is difficult to convince many people that the tradition of child marriage is wrong.
“They believe there is no ill in the practice, as it has been going on for years,” said Nirmal Gorana, convener of the National Campaign Committee for Eradication of Bonded Labour.
“When parents marry their girls young, it is also to ensure they do not stake any claim on the parent’s property,” he added.


Sabika Shaikh’s family waiting to see her one last time

The coffin of Sabika Shaikh, 17, is carried during her funeral service in Stafford, Texas, on May, 20, 2018. Sabika was an exchange student from Pakistan. (AFP)
Updated 22 May 2018
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Sabika Shaikh’s family waiting to see her one last time

  • The Punjab administration has announced a scholarship in the name of the Texas school shooting victim.
  • Sabika’s body will arrive in Pakistan on Wednesday morning. Her father says he was greatly moved to see how many people attended her funeral in Houston.

KARACHI: Abdul Aziz Shaikh, father of the Pakistani victim of the Texas school shooting, told Arab News on Monday that he would have to wait to see his daughter for the last time due to a delay in flights from the US.

“Sabika’s body was due to arrive in Karachi on Tuesday morning; however, due to a change in flight schedules, we will receive her at 4 a.m. on Wednesday,” he said.

“It’s really difficult but we have no option but to wait,” he continued, adding that officials at the Pakistan Consulate in Houston were striving to make the best possible arrangements for sending her body back to her home.

The 17-year-old Pakistani foreign exchange student, participating in the Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study (YES) program in the US, was killed, along with nine others, when a teenage classmate opened fire on fellow students in the Santa Fe High School in Texas on Friday.

Sabika’s funeral prayers were offered at a local mosque in Houston after the noon prayer on Sunday.

“We thought she was only loved by her family. But the way people showed up at her funeral in Houston — and the way everyone condoled with us in Karachi — shows that she was loved by everyone," her father said.

Shaikh said he saw the video of the Houston funeral, pointing out that it was not only attended by Pakistani-Americans but people from all Muslim countries. Many of those who attended the ceremony, he added, belonged to other faiths. They were all mourning her untimely death, he said.

“All this shows people’s exemplary attachment to her. It makes us very proud.”

Rana Mashhood Khan, a minister in the Punjab administration who visited the bereaved family on Sunday evening, told Arab News that the provincial government was going to introduce a “Sabika Scholarship” that would be awarded to brilliant students from Punjab. This, he added, would help them study abroad in some of the best educational institutions around the world.

“I met the family and conveyed a special message from Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif. We wanted them to know that we will institute a scholarship in the name of their talented daughter for young and bright students in our province,” Khan said.

Shaikh seemed happy to hear the announcement. “I’m glad that the name of my daughter will be associated with a scholarship that will benefit our students.”

He also said that a Karachi-based industrialist, Ishtiaq Baig, had also promised to introduce a scholarship in Sabika’s name. “She is making us all very proud. I wish I could see her alive with so many accomplishments.”

On Sunday, Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi also visited Shaikh’s residence to condole with the family.

Expressing deep grief and sorrow, the prime minister described Sabika as a talented Pakistani student, adding that the whole nation was mourning her death. The Pakistani premier also pointed out that extremist tendencies were not just a problem in one country or region, but that they were an international one.

Earlier, in an interview with Arab News, Shaikh had revealed that his daughter wanted to be a diplomat and improve the image of her country.

“Sabika wanted to sit the Central Superior Services (CSS) exams and join the Foreign Service of Pakistan. She thought that Pakistan was a great country, but that it had an image problem.”

“At one point, she told me that she wanted to be like Maleeha Lodhi and Tasneem Aslam,” Shaikh had said. “Her desire was to improve the image of Pakistan abroad.”