Saima was either 13 or 14 when her father, Wazir Ahmed, married her off to 36-year-old Mohammad Ramzan, a mentally challenged man who is unable to hear or speak. The deal was brokered by Ramzan’s sister, Sabeel, who offered herself as Ahmed’s second wife in exchange for a bride to take care of her disabled brother. “No-one had been willing to give their daughters to my brother,” explained Sabeel.
In the deeply conservative part of Punjab province, Pakistan, in which Saima resides, the tribal tradition of Watta Satta – Urdu for “give and take” – is still in practice. Girls are exchanged between families to pay debts, settle disputes, and, in Ahmed’s case, to provide the prospect of a male heir.
“I feel shame that I don’t have a son,” said Saima’s mother, Janaat. “I myself allowed my husband to get a second wife.”
Marrying off her young daughter while simultaneously providing her husband the means to create an heir, she added, served to kill two birds with one stone. “When [girls] reach puberty, quickly we have to marry them,” said Janaat. “Daughters are a burden, but the sons, they are the owners of the house.”
Authorities investigated Saima’s marriage after receiving a complaint, but after she testified in court that she was 16 — the legal marrying age — authorities released her. Saima, who was impregnated shortly after her marriage with Ramzan but lost the child at five months, said that she lied in order to protect her father and husband.
“His sister and my father fell in love and they exchanged me,” Saima said. “Yes, I am afraid of my father, but it is his decision who I will marry and when.”
Back in her childhood home, Saima’s 7-year-old sister Asma has also been promised in marriage — Asma will marry their now 10-year-old cousin as soon as she reaches puberty.
Watch video of Saima’s story below.
[protected-iframe id=”93f7054908e86df0d459e2cf80b61271-83869857-104826617″ info=”//www.washingtonpost.com/video/c/embed/dec56cb2-ce94-11e6-85cd-e66532e35a44″ width=”480″ height=”290″ frameborder=”0″ scrolling=”no”]
Read the full story at The Associated Press.