One sunny afternoon as she skipped home from school, Saneeda was accosted by her estranged father, who wanted to marry her to a man she’d never met to settle a debt of “honour”. She was five years old.
A few months earlier, Saneeda’s father Ali Ahmed had eloped with a girl from another valley. To avoid violent revenge from her family, he promised to give them his daughter and niece Sapna in marriage.
Offering young girls as brides in compensation to settle disputes persists in many areas of the country. In Saneeda’s home district of Swat, the practice is known as “swara”.
Government data show that it is on the rise in Swat, four years after an army operation ended the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan’s brutal two-year rule in the scenic valley once known as the “Switzerland of Pakistan”.
Nine cases were registered in the area in 2013, up from just one in 2012. Rights groups say the true number is much higher.
In Islam, it is permitted for a man of any age to marry a girl from the age of nine years since Mohammed, the perfect example of a Muslim man, married Aisha at six and consummated the marriage when she was nine.
The Prophet Muhammad is considered an example for Muslims to follow. His life example is known as the sunnah, and is a valid source of Islamic law. The things that the Prophet Muhammad said and did have been gathered together in texts called hadith.