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Girls & Women

Girl, 14, Traded to Be Bride of Man, 36, in Pakistan

Mohammad Ramzan, right, reacts while talking to The Associated Press with his young bride Saima in Jampur, Pakistan. (AP Photo/K.M. Chaudhry)

It's called "watta satta” — give or take — in Urdu. And it's a practice that leads to countless young girls being traded off into arranged marriages to settle debts, settle a feud, or save money.

That's the fate that Saima Ramzan faced.

Ramzan was just 14 years old when her father, Wazir Ahmed, traded her so that he could take a second wife. She was married off to a man nearly three times her age, according to the Associated Press.

"We gave a girl in this family for a girl in their family," Ahmed told the AP. "That is our right."

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Ahmed wanted a second wife because his first wife had given birth only to daughters and he wanted a son. He had wanted to marry a woman named Sabeel, but she wouldn’t agree to the marriage until her brother Mohammad Ramzan, who is 36 and can neither hear nor speak and is mentally disabled, had a wife.

So Ahmed traded Saima for Sabeel.

The practice is deeply entrenched in the tribal culture; about 21% of girls in Pakistan are married before the age of 18, according to Girls Not Brides. The reasons for trading girls are numerous: to pay a debt, settle a feud, or save money, according to the report.

The legal marriage age in Pakistan is 16, but many families subscribe to the belief that girls must be married off at puberty. Police investigated Saima’s marriage to Mohammad and jailed both of the men for a few days, but Saima then lied and told authorities she was 16 years old, the AP reported.

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Saima now lives with Mohammad, his bedridden father, and his mother, who begs around town during the day for donations, according to the report. She, too, is deaf and cannot speak, and has trouble walking.

Saima got pregnant shortly after her marriage but lost the baby, and has not become pregnant again, though Ramzan told the AP he would like her to take medicine to help with another pregnancy.

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Saima's mother, Janaat, said that she agreed with the trade and the practice of marrying off her daughters at a young age.

"I feel shame that I don't have a son. I myself allowed my husband to get a second wife," she said.

And while Saima said little about her situation to the AP, she did acknowledge that she was afraid of her father and that it was his decision who she married and when.

In the rest of Pakistan and around south Asia, including in India and Nepal, child marriage remains stubbornly high as governments try to crack down on ancient practices of families marrying off girls at a young age.

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Child marriage can lead to a plethora of problems for girls, who often have to drop out of school when they are married and have to have sex and endure pregnancy while their bodies are still growing. They often bear children at a young age and are forced to take care of the home, excluding them from educational and economic opportunities.

Global Citizen is campaigning with CHIME FOR CHANGE to have countries around the world toughen their anti-child marriage laws, increasing penalties and enforcement and helping girls stay in school longer, so that children like Saima can finish their education instead of become 14-year-old brides.

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