|Pakistan’s supreme court has ordered authorities to investigate the alleged barter of 13 children – all girls – to settle a blood feud in a remote area of the southwestern Balochistan province.Iftikhar Muhammed Chaudhry, the country’s chief justice, began proceedings on Tuesday, probing the alleged trade in the Dera Bugti district.
Saeed Faisal, the deputy commissioner for the district, told the court that a tribal council had ordered the barter in early September.
Faisal said that he did not know the girls’ ages, but local media reported that they were aged between four and 13.
Faisal said during Wednesday’s proceedings that two helicopters had been sent to get the girls from Dera Bugti to Quetta to take part in the court’s proceedings.
Amanullah Kanrani, the district’s advocate-general, said that he could not confirm the incident had taken place.
The court had also summoned Tariq Masuri, the local provincial assembly legislator who allegedly chaired the meeting that finalised the barter, to appear before it on Wednesday. Masuri denied allegations that he was present at the barter during Wednesday’s proceedings in Quetta.
The court has also called for the girls to be produced before it to record their testimony.
Wani, the tradition of families exchanging unmarried girls to settle feuds, is banned under Pakistani law but still practiced in the country’s more conservative and tribal areas.
Those found guilty of practicing are liable to up to seven years in prison and a fine of $5,230 (Rs500,000).
Local media reported that in addition to the wani, the tribal meeting also allegedly imposed a fine of Rs3 million, after discussing a dispute between two tribes based on the murder of a local man.
Women’s rights groups in Pakistan have welcomed the passing of a bill which will punish those who force women into marriages or deny them inheritance.
Anyone convicted of forcing a woman into marriage or of receiving her inheritance will be sentenced to prison for 3-10 years, or will have to pay a fine of about $6,000, when the Anti-Women’s Practices Bill comes into effect.
But rights groups have raised concern about how the amended legislation will be enforced due to the prevailing attitude towards women in the country.
Al Jazeera’s Imtiaz Tyab report from Lahore.
Since its independence in 1947, the country has swung violently between military rulers and civilian governments criticised for cronyism, graft and mismanagement.
The 190 million-strong population blame their woes on the current government led by the Pakistan People’s Party. But two emerging powers have emerged on the horizon to hold them to account – the country’s Supreme Court and an emerging opposition movement led by Imran Khan.
In June, the Supreme Court in Islamabad convicted Yusuf Raza Gilani, the then prime minister, of contempt and ousted him from office for not investigating the case. But the ruling Pakistan People’s Party has remained defiant by electing controversial figure Raja Pervaiz Ashraf to the prime ministership.
The judiciary keeps mounting pressure on the Pakistani government to reopen old corruption cases against Asif Ali Zardari, the current president.
Analysts say the judiciary has been more effective than civilian government – giving political rights to minority groups, fixing traffic problems in Karachi and dictating the price of commodities like sugar.