India’s contract marriages: When Sheikhs marry, rape and divorce child brides, all in one week



Poverty is not a crime, but it surely is a curse for docile Muslim girls in the poverty-driven city of Hyderabad, India. Why, you ask? Because young girls from impoverished families are forced to marry ageing and rich men.

Since the 90s, Hyderabad has been a hunting ground for the rich philanderers from oil-rich countries to seek young and virgin brides. Over the years, numerous unfortunate stories of teenaged brides wedded to ageing Arabs have unfolded at regular intervals. Recently, 20 people were arrested in a major crackdown against a ‘Sheikh marriage’ racket, which hints towards a much greater issue.

Amidst poor living conditions and rising dowry demands from local suitors, families are compelled to marry off their teenage girls (as young as 14 and sometimes even 11) to Sheikhs from the Gulf or African countries. For an agreed amount, the poor girls are wedded off to these rich Sheikhs who are almost their father’s age.

Nevertheless, for countless poor families in the poverty-ridden city, this monetary proposal is irresistible. Besides, the fact that families are so large, with seven to 10 children, paying exorbitant sums of cash as dowry becomes difficult. Desperate families find it easier to receive a good amount through a contract marriage from an older man, rather than paying a prospective groom’s family from their own pocket.

And so, the girls settle for a nikkah against their wishes, as they are blindsided by their parents who tell them they are doing it for their family’s needs and requirements. Most often, the story unfolds with the common narrative that there is no money to feed the younger siblings, so if she puts her selfishness aside and gets married to the old man, she can rescue them and become the family’s saviour. The girl is ultimately left with no choice whatsoever.

As bizarre as it may sound, the wealthy Sheikh bails out the poverty-stricken family like a knight in shining armour, by making a deal with the needy parents for a few thousand rupees. Next, the child bride ends up selling both her body and soul to the old man, who is interested only in raping the virgin bride. Although earlier, these men used to take their child wives back to their native countries as third or fourth wives. But now days, they either become maids or are sold as sex slaves.

The Express Tribune for more

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