Underage girl Dua Zehra’s marriage case mishandled

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Despite the Sindh High Court orders to let Dua Zehra decide about whoever she wants to go with, and Dua’s decision to opt for her husband Zaheer, there are still many unanswered questions regarding the Dua disappearing episode and then sudden emergence along with Zaheer as her husband, has brought to fore the many flaws within our legal system and the failure of institutions to come to terms with the requirements of safeguarding our children at such a young age.

And these are the concerns of the parents who say that their daughter is underage i.e. only 14 years of age and that she has been lured by some ‘mafia’ which is posing a serious danger to her life. Though one is not sure about the apprehensions expressed by  Dua’s parents, but one thing is for sure that our government machinery, particularly the police and agencies, have failed to properly handle and follow this case and unearth the factual truth about how Dua came in contact with Zaheer, how she reached Lahore, what is her real age, and whether her husband Zaheer and alleged in-laws are law-abiding citizens or part of the mafia as alleged by Zehra’s parents,  who have also termed the medical test regarding Dua’s age and her nikkah as forged ones.

Dua’s parents are still worried for their daughter’s safety and  are running from pillar to post to convince the authorities and the society that their daughter is in grip of mafia and that she has  made the statements before court under serious intimidation and threat as she is not free to say what she wants to. Now these apprehensions of the parents need to be taken notice seriously.

The  medical reports have put Dua’s age at sixteen while her parents claim that she is only 14 years of age and they cite the date of their wedding and NADRA record of their wedding  as proof. In the wake of these findings, one thing is for sure that NADRA reports should not be disputed in this case and must be taken as proof. Some legal experts are also of the opinion that her age must be determined by the date of birth registered in NADRA record according to her Nadra birth certificate, and not by medical reports. NADRA documents should be considered as an official proof of her age  and as such she should be handed over  to Child Protection bureau till she attains the age of  18 and then she be brought before the court to decide about whoever she wants to go with.

These observations by the legal experts do hold waters and must be given a sympathetic hear to them by the authorities and the courts as it is the case of a teenage girl, the circumstances in which she married are wrought with mystery and are not quite clear so the best practice would be to let her remain in Child Protection custody. The aspect of human trafficking cannot be ignored as the possibility of involvement of human trafficking’s remains high in such cases, particularly when it involves young girls. Dua’s alleged husband Zaheer has recently disclosed that he wants Dua to take her abroad on a trip, This announcement has added to parents apprehensions as they fear the involvement of human trafficking in this case and say that their daughter is not in safe hands. As a matter of fact, to any sound mind, the announcement at this point of so controversial and mysterious marriage does seem unsound.

And the authorities should not allow them to proceed to abroad till the dust dies down and the full facts are revealed about this incident. On the other hand, Dua’s case has highlighted the issue of child marriage in our society. Even if her age is between 16 and 17 as claimed by the medical reports, she falls within child categories as Sindh has set the legal age for marriage at 18 and she hails from Sindh.

In fact, Sindh has formally criminalized underage marriage since 2013 and both girls and boys under 18 years of age  are not allowed to marry off out of their free will under the Sindh Child Marriage Restraint Act (SCMRA), 2013. So this aspect of the case also needs to be given a thorough consideration. In Punjab the legal age for a girl to marry is 15 but then she is from Sindh as rules of this province do apply to her and not that of Punjab. The case has brought to fore the contradictions within our legal systems within the state institutions procedures and way of working. There are no uniformed rules and regulations and even the laws are not uniformed and their interpretation is also not the same at provincial level.

Due to ambiguities in such cases,  the role and responsibilities of the state institutions increase and it is their prime duty to save such children as they stand exposed to various dangers due to the existing flaws within the judicial system and within the legal proceedings and framework as also the contradictions within the laws itself. One would agree with the recent UNICEF report which has revealed that  Pakistani  children are vulnerable to many forms of violence, exploitation and child trafficking.  UN reports say that there are an estimated 3.3 million Pakistani children who are lured and trapped in child labour.

It also says that  a quarter of young women are married before attaining the age of 15, and 31 percent before 18 years of age.  In the wake of the above-facts, it becomes necessary for the state institutions to give a sympathetic hearing to the plea of DUa Zehra, who  fear that their daughter has been trapped by some mafia and that there is danger to her life. It is time we should improve the child protection system in our country so that cases like Dua Zehra are handled properly by the government authorities and institutions.EDITORIAL