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Girls at greater risk of being sold by desperate families in Pakistan

The devastating floods last year in Pakistan have impoverished many families and some are resorting to selling their daughters in order to survive.

 In Pakistan, it is common for families to receive a dowry for girls, where gifts or money change hands in exchange for a bride. For struggling families, this offers a powerful incentive to give their daughters away in marriage. An official at the Federal Investigation Agency told IRIN “poverty is rampant and when you offer money for a bride, people are more than willing to give away their daughters”.

Some teenage girls in flood-affected areas are fleeing their homes so they cannot be given away. Support agencies have been able to help youngsters cope with trauma following the flood disaster, but cannot always provide the girls with legal support to help them avoid marriage.

IRIN also reports on the rise of trafficking in young girls. Some families genuinely believe they are giving away their daughters in marriage, but the reality facing the girls is sometimes different. One father from Shikarpur told the news agency that he had been paid nearly 600 dollars in February for his 16-year old daughter’s hand. He needed the money to help rebuild his house. However, he then discovered that his daughter had been sold on by her husband to a brothel. The brothel owner is demanding 1,400 dollars to send the girl back to her family, money which they simply do not have.

It is not uncommon to find girls as young as 12 years in the red light areas of Karachi, many of them poor teenagers from flood-hit communities. A Prevention and Control of Human Trafficking Ordinance was passed in Pakistan nine years ago, but it is not stopping this kind of trafficking. Districts badly affected by the floods, such as Kashmore, Jaffarabad, Nasirabad and Larkana, are well known to have gangs active in trading and even kidnapping young girls. Even when families discover the whereabouts of their daughters, sometimes they are more concerned with redeeming the honour of the family and ‘honour killings’ are common.

Pakistan has one of the worst ‘gender gaps’ in the world and is placed 132 out of 134 countries by the World Economic Forum because of the number of honour killings, forced marriages and cases of physical and sexual violence. A recent Reuters poll of social experts also ranked the country as the world’s third most dangerous for women. The floods of last year have not only worsened the situation for many struggling families, they have put the lives of young Pakistani girls at even greater risk than before.

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