Girl, 2, who must marry to pay for uncle's adultery
By Nasir Malick
in Kutcha Chohan
As she emerges from her mud-walled house carried high on her elder brother's shoulder two-year-old Rabia is blissfully unaware of the life that awaits her.
In 14 years, if the ruling of the village council – or panchayat – where she lives in rural Pakistan is obeyed, she will be married to a man 33 years her senior.
The decision was taken last week as a punishment against her uncle, Mohammed Akmal, who was found to have slept with another man's wife. As part of the compensation deal he also agreed to pay 230,000 rupees (Ł2,175).
According to custom, a girl from an "offending" family must be offered in marriage to a man from a complainant's family.
The cuckolded man, Altaf Hussain, 35, is already married with three children but has divorced his wife after discovering her affair with Akmal.
Human rights groups in Pakistan have condemned the panchayat's ruling which effectively decides the future of the girl's life before she is even able to talk.
Although panchayats have no official standing in law, in practice they remain a powerful instrument of justice and control in rural areas which remain under the control of feudal landlords.
Few people in the Punjab village of Kutcha Chohan, 170 miles east of the central city of Multan, dared talk openly about the panchayat. Between 20 and 25 tribal notables sat on the council which was held at the mud-plastered and thatched outhouse of a local landlord of the girl's tribe, the Bunglani Mazari.
Villagers who asked not to be named said when the wronged man learned of the affair he declared Akmal "kala" meaning "black" or "adulterer", forcing him to go on the run for several months. He only returned when his mistress's family issued a threat to kill him.
The decision over Rabia's family led one of her uncles, Nasrullah Nasir, to protest.
"My family ask me why I have raised my voice against this system," said 26-year-old Nasir. "But I say that the feudal system is still strong in Pakistan and it's time people broke the shackles."
Despite their unofficial status, illegal and out-dated customs still prevail in Pakistan. Four months ago in the same area, a four-year-old was killed by her tribe after being declared "kari" or defiled by rape.