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Narratives of Women

These interviews were conducted in the years 1999/2000 at two sites. The first site was Kot Lakpat Jail where women were incarcerated for zina related offenses. The second site was and Darul-Aman, a shelter run by the Anjuman - Hayat - Islam. Both sites are in Lahore Pakistan.

The narratives of the women identify their struggles. Although the zina laws affect the lives of all Pakistanis, improverished women are particularly adversely affected. This is not because the law targets these women but because the women's circumstances make them more vulnerable to the law. Families with little means to cope with increasing inflation and chronic unemployment often find that their daughters' sexuality is a valuable asset, a commodity commanding a high price. Marrying her to the highest bidder in exchange for a "gift" frequently becomes one method of paying off debts. Many women are sold into marriage to sustain alcohol and drug habits of their male relatives.

GULBADEN BIBI AGE 17, FROM PESHAWAR. SHE HAS BEEN IN DARUL AMAN FOR 22 DAYS.
My father sold me in marriage for 20,000 rupees when I was fifteen to Akram who is fifty years old and a zamidar (landlord). He used to beat me and yell at me and call me names. So my father helped me obtain a divorce and paid back the 20,000. to Akram. Then I married my cousin and father consented. Father drinks alcohol and gambles and takes opium and has a lot of debt. So he now wants me to divorce my cousin and marry a man in Karachi who is willing to pay for me. This way father can pay off his debt. I refused. I want to stay with my husband Qamar. Father said that there is no marriage between my cousin and myself as I no longer have his permission to be married to Qamar. So he charged me with zina. I want to stay married to Qamar. I came to Darul Aman voluntarily. I was afraid of what my father would do to me.

GUL BANO, AGE 15. SHE IS STUDYING IN TENTH CLASS AND HAS BEEN IN DARUL-AMAN FOR 6 MONTHS.
Father married me to a man who I like and am happy with and he is close in age to me he is twenty-two years old. Father and mother used to fight. He left the family and the country. I don't know where he is. No one knows where he is. Now mother wants me to divorce my husband. She says that I am only fifteen and a minor and that she has authority over me. She wants me to marry someone who has promised her money. So my mother has charged us with zina and my husband with abduction. My marriage has been registered and my husband has the nikhanama. I am happy with my husband and I do not want to leave him. Twice I have been to court. In the court I was told that I am a minor and should go and live with my mother and do as she says. But I refused. Finally I came to Darul Aman, I am afraid.


SALIMA AGE 20, NO FORMAL SCHOOLING. SHE HAS BEEN AT DARUL-AMAN FOR 6 MONTHES.
My step father was thrown out of house by my mother and brothers. They also used to beat me and emotionally and verbally abused me. They wanted to marry me to a man who already had two children. But they owed money to him and so they wanted me to marry him so he would forgive their debt. But I refused. And they beat me more. So I ran away and stayed with a friend for four days. I hid in her balcony and her parents did not know I was in the house. In those days I had no food only what my friend was able to sneak in, mostly tea and some bread. My friend was afraid of her family finding out.

Then I went and stayed with some cousins. They did not keep me either. They are afraid of my mother and brothers and did not want to get involved. But they did give me five hundred rupees and sent me here to Darul Aman. I don't want to go home. I want to live with my aunt (fathers sister) and she says that she will take me. My mother and brothers have told me that if I don't come home, they will charge me with theft and zina. Mother has already made comments about the brother of my friend who sheltered me. She says that maybe I did zina with him. As yet they have not formally charged him, but I won't be surprised if they do that. My mother says that maybe I also did zina with my step father and zina with my cousin. I have no lawyer and I have no money. If I go home they will kill me. I am happy here and I will live out my life in Darul Aman if I have to. I will show my family that I can survive.


I did not have free access to women and my analysis of their comments are based on common themes that emerged from the interviews. Zina laws attempt to regulate who can have sex with whom. Yet sex is not the issue in the women's accounts. Even in this limited sample of thirteen women, there is a disparity between on the one hand the emphasis on the moral/sexual issue contested in the legal accounts and the narratives of struggles in the lives of the women interviewed. Although the zina laws affect the lives of all Pakistanis, impoverished women are particularly adversely affected. This is not because the law targets these women but because the women's circumstances make them more vulnerable to the law. Families with little means to cope with increasing inflation and chronic unemployment often find that their daughters' sexuality is a valuable asset, a commodity commanding a high price. Marrying her to the highest bidder in exchange for a "gift" frequently becomes one method of paying off debts. Many women are sold into marriage to sustain alcohol and drug habits of their male relatives.


If women marry it must be with parental consent and the zina laws are a powerful means to secure that consent. If a woman does not have her parents' blessings when she marries she can be intimidated with the threat of zina. And if that won't bring her in line with parents wishes she can be charged and incarcerated under the zina laws. Use of zina laws to prosecute and intimidate daughters who have married without their permission, suggests that parental right overrides men's right/claim to their wives. Often young men are as powerless as young women in deciding their destiny.

NAUSHEEN AGE 20, COMPLETED NINTH CLASS. SHE HAS BEEN AT KOT LAKPAT THREE MONTHS AND IS EXPECTING HER FIRST CHILD THIS MONTH

I married against my parents will and they accused my husband of abducting me. And both of us are in jail. My husband is my cousin [son of mother's brother]. I had asked my parents for permission to marry him but they said no. I got married anyway. And my parents registered a case of zina against me. My husband and I worked for a zamidar (landlord). The person who got us the job collected thirty thousand rupees for our labour which the zamidar said was one year's salary in advance. We got nothing. We had worked for nine months when we were arrested. The zamidar has our nikahnama (marriage certificate) and we need it to prove that we are married. He wants some of his money back before he will give over our nikahnama. We don't have the money to give him.

Husbands also find that these laws work in their favour. They can use them to intimidate and subjugate their wives. Otherwise they can always charge them with zina.

RASHIDA BIBI AGE 18, NO FORMAL EDUCATION. SHE HAS BEEN AT DARUL-AMAN 4 MONTHS.

Father owed money to an old man. And he married me again to the old man. My new "husband" not only slept with me but also made me commit zina with six other men in exchange for money which he kept. And he also beat me and broke my arm. He had a first wife who was also involved in prostituting me and she also beat me. I registered case of rape against old man and his wife with the police. I am in Darul Aman because the old man's son-in-law has threatened me. My father also used to beat me.

Poor women with little resources also provide ideal victims for the police who want a tidy conclusion to cases. Hina Jilani argues that once a case has been initiated and an First Investigative Report [FIR} launched, police are "under pressure to tie up the investigation and send the case for prosecution." Police performance is evaluated annually. And unresolved cases she points out reflect on poor police performance, so often they are looking for a victim.

NASEEM JEHAN, AGE49, WIFE OF ASIF, NO FORMAL EDUCATION. SHE HAS BEEN AT KOT LAKPAT SEVEN MONTHS.

My neighbour (who is also my relative), well, her daughter in law ran away. And I was accused of helping her run away. I was accused by the mother-in-law of the girl for being an accomplice. She wanted money from me. I have been accused of a crime that I have not committed. They [the courts] are asking three lackhs for bail. I have sold everything even my jewelry to support my case. My eldest daughter is sixteen and she is alone at home with my husband. My husband has a bad temper and I am afraid for her. My bail has been raised three times and is now three lackhs. Because the judge also wants money. I am against judges please write against judges.

NAHEED, AGE 25, FROM OKARA DISTRICT, NO FORMAL EDUCATION. SHE HAS BEEN IN PRISON FOR SEVEN MONTHS.

I had a fruit shop in Lahore. I had employed a boy to work for me. He abducted his cousin and I got charged with helping in the abduction. There is no one to bail me as my husband has also been charged and is also in jail. The police said that he gave the couple a ride in his vehicle. I have been told that the abducted girl testified against my husband and me. I do not know what was said in the police station. I do not understand. I have no lawyer. I have four children, their ages are four years, six years, and nine years. They are with my uncle right now. Sometimes I write letters to them. And sometimes I get letters from them.

SAIMA PARVEEN, AGE 20. SHE HAS NEVER BEEN TO SCHOOL BUT KNOWS HOW TO READ AND WRITE URDU. SHE IS MARRIED WITH A SEVEN YEAR OLD SON AND HAS BEEN AT KOT LAKPAT FOR NINETEEN DAYS.

My brother Mustafa is married to Razia and Razia has a sister, Rukaya. Now Rukaya and her husband fought a lot. He used to bring home other women and when Rukaya complained he beat her. At one time Rukaya jumped into the river with her daughter and attempted suicide. A man who was passing by saw them and pulled them out. When her husband beat her Rukaya went home to her parents and sometimes she went to her sister Razia's house.

When Rukaya finally ran away, she came to Razia's house. And Razia told her that "Although others close their doors against you I will always keep my door open for you." We were afraid, my parents were afraid and I was afraid. And [we] suggested to Mustafa that he leave Rukaya with her parents. We were afraid that there would be trouble. But he refused and allowed Rukaya to stay in their home. Rukaya was also afraid that her husband would come looking for her to Razia's house so she ran away from there [as well]. And her husband did come looking for her. He said that Razia her husband and his family had abducted his wife. So now the whole family is charged with abduction and helping Rukaya run away. They are all in jail, my father, and my three brothers. I am in jail. Razia is also in jail. Rukaya has disappeared and Razia fears that her in-laws have abducted her, otherwise she would be in touch with Razia. Rukaya's brother and husband say that they will kill her if she turns up. We are poor and they are rich. Razia's husband does not want to blame his wife. But the rest of the family blames her. I blame her for bringing so much misfortune to our family. Rukaya disappeared a year ago, she is either dead or in hiding. Razia thinks she is dead or she would have been in touch.

This case was registered two months ago and I have been in jail nineteen days. The police took my brothers and myself into the lock up and beat us up. They beat us a lot and I have a lot of bruises. They took money from us. I have no one to bail me out, all my three brothers are in jail, my father is jail. I don't know where my husband is. My son is with my mother and I have left everything to Allah.

SAIIDA, AGE 40, NO FORMAL EDUCATION. SHE HAS FOUR CHILDREN, AGES TWENTY-ONE, EIGHTEEN, FOURTEEN, AND SIXTEEN AND SHE HAS BEEN IN PRISON EIGHT AND A HALF MONTHS.

A lady doctor lived near us who did abortions. She said to me if your bring me clients I will do free treatment for you and give free medicine [to you]. I have kidney and asthma problems and do not have the money for medical treatment. So I brought her clients. I brought her an unmarried girl who was pregnant and who wanted an abortion. She ran away after the abortion and her family registered a FIR and blamed me as an accomplice. Now the police have accused me of abducting the girl.