A Pakistani family was forced to repay their debt by giving off their minor daughter.

  • Young girl Jeevti, a mere 14 years old, was taken away to be married to a man.
  • The reason: her parents had borrowed some money which they allegedly weren’t able to repay.
  • 2 million Pakistanis live as “modern slaves,” according to 2016 Global Slavery Index

When a loan costs your daughter

Pakistan-based Jeevti’s family had borrowed a sum worth approximately $500 from a local lender. Apparently, they weren’t able to repay the loan, which is why the adolescent girl was kidnapped by the lender. However, Jeevti’s mother Ameri Kashi Kohli insists that she did pay off the loan. Ameri did try her best to rescue her daughter. She said, “I went to the police and to the court. But no one is listening to us.” While Jeevti’s family is Hindu, her captors allegedly forced her to convert to Islam, in order to marry her. Ameri shared, “They told us, ‘Your daughter has committed to Islam and you can’t get her back.'”

Uncooperative police

Exasperated, Ameri turned to activist Veero Kohli for help. Kohli herself escaped bonded labour in 1999, and fights to change this system ever since then. Kohli accompanied Ameri to the Piyaro Lundh police station to file a complaint. However, they found no solace. Kohli said, “They said the girl went willingly.  I told them: ‘Let me talk to her. Let her mother talk to her if she went freely.'” However, the police refused. Instead of allowing Ameri to meet Jeevti, they called in Hamid Brohi- the man who Ameri believed took her daughter. He visited the police station without Jeevti. Brohi said, “Anyway, she is payment for 100,000 rupees ($1,000) they owe me.” Eventually, the police showed Kohli an affidavit, signed by Jeevti. It said that she was now called Fatima, had converted to Islam on her own free will and married Brohi willlingly. She also said that she couldn’t meet her mother since she was now Muslim but her family was still Hindu.

Trap of debt and patriarchy

This is truly a reflection of the deep-rooted problem of never-ending debt for the underprivileged in Pakistan. Local lenders offer cash which needy people can borrow, but the trap is laid with the high percentage of interest charged. Before the borrower knows it, the loan has increased into an incredible amount. Even if the borrower starts repaying the loan diligently, he or she can never keep up with the ballooning interest charges. Soon, it becomes like a never-ending debt: even though the principal amount may have been paid off ages ago, the interest charges means the person still owes the lender. Unfortunately, for Jeevti’s family, a loan of $500 cost them their young daughter. However, this is not an isolated case.  Young girls are frequently taken as settlement for debt in the impoverished areas of Pakistan.

“They have no rights, and their women and girls are the most vulnerable. They always take the pretty ones,” said Ghulam Hayder of Green Rural Development Organization. According to a report by  South Asia Partnership, about 1,000 young Christian and Hindu girls are taken from their homes each year. They are then converted to Islam and married.

Pakistan has seen several incidents of violence against women, which made it to global headlines. This occurrence is nothing short of “modern slavery,” which especially affects young girls and women in Pakistan. This needs immediate global attention and intervention.

Image credit: Wasif Malik/ flickr