India: After decades of Trafficking, Telangana bans Child Marriages to Aging Shieks Print E-mail
 
 Monday September 11, 2017

Telangana to issue ordinance to ban unlawful marriages

Foreigners who simply come to the country as tourists on visitors’ visas will not be granted permission to marry.

READ ALSO from August 2005 HERE

Those found violating the ordinance could face seven years’ imprisonment.

Hyderabad: The state government plans to enact an ordinance banning the unlawful marriage of foreign nationals with local girls. Those found violating the ordinance could face seven years’ imprisonment.

According to Syed Omer Jaleel, special secretary of the minority welfare department, the ordinance will eventually be converted into legislation. He says that as per the new rules, it will be mandatory for foreign nationals wishing to marry in India to obtain no objection certificates from their respective countries.

They will also have to provide proof of their economic status and give undertakings to the immigration authorities, promising to take care of their wives.

Foreigners who simply come to the country as tourists on visitors’ visas will not be granted permission to marry. Qazis will not be allowed to perform nikaah ceremonies without letters of permission from either the police commissioner of the district superintendent of police.

A clause which states that the age difference between the bride and the groom cannot be over ten years has also been included. The ordinance is being drafted in consultation with the law offcials, home and police departments. Suggestions have been invited from Muslim scholars as well.
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 Thursday September 21, 2017

20 held for child marriages involving Arab Sheikhs

Special Correspondent
 

Police presenting to the media Oman and Qatar nationals involved in child marriages in Hyderabad on Wednesday. (K.V.S. Giri)

Hyderabad police crack the whip on ‘sale’ of minors

Cracking the whip on the ‘sale’ of minor girls from old city of Hyderabad to Arab Shaikhs in the guise of marriages, the police arrested 20 persons – including five Omanis and three Qataris – here on Wednesday.

While the eight foreigners arrested were presented before the court and remanded in judicial custody, the antecedents of eight more Omanis, who allegedly had come to Hyderabad to marry minors, were being verified. “They are suspected to have landed here to marry the girls on a contract basis by paying off Qazis and brokers,” Hyderabad Police Commissioner M. Mahender Reddy said.

The arrested persons included three qazis, including a chief qazi from Mumbai, four lodge owners, who used to provide accommodation to foreigners, and five brokers. The Hyderabad police kept tabs on the brokers, qazis and foreigners coming to old city after the instances of marriage of minor girls to Arab Shaikhs were reported a month ago.

“We found that many brokers from the Gulf countries, especially Oman and Qatar, are maintaining links with Arab Shaikhs to arrange minors from poor families for marriages,” Mr. Reddy said. Some such agents even married Hyderabadi women and use their connections in the city to identify girls who can be sold to Arab Shaikhs in the name of marriage.

“These Arab Shaikhs take the married girls to the Gulf countries where they are sexually exploited by others,” the Commissioner said. Investigation revealed that Farid Ahmed Khan, the chief qazi of Mumbai, was the kingpin in the child marriage racket.

Khan allegedly used to charge from Rs. 1 lakh to Rs. 3 lakh for each marriage depending on the foreigner’s capacity to pay. He would arrange forged documents for safe passage of the married minor girls (mentioning that they were adults) from India to the Arab Shaikhs’ respective countries.

On learning about Khan, a special team of the Hyderabad police went to Mumbai and brought him here. “Khan emerged as the key player in this illegal activity as he was arranging fabricated documents,” South Zone DCP V. Satyanarayana said.

The Hyderabad police identified that 38 brokers, including some women, were involved in the child marriages involving Arab Shaikhs. Suspect sheets were opened against them to keep track of their movements.
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 Thursday September 21, 2017

Hyderabad: Local politicians rush to save qazis, foreigners

Leaders say highlighting women trafficking will bring bad name to city.

By ASIF YAR KHAN


Eight Omani and Qatari nationals, three qazis including chief qazi of Mumbai, lodge owners and brokers detained by the police in connection with the human trafficking of women case in the Old City.

Hyderabad: Even as the police is cracking down on human trafficking of women in the Old City and conducting raids at several places, politicians have appeared at the Falaknuma police complex, the epicentre of police action, and some have rang up police officials to ask them to go ‘carefully’ with the investigation.

At least two GHMC corporators rushed to the Falaknuma police complex to secure the release of the Qatari nationals who have been arrested. One corporator went so far as to say he would not leave until the arrested person was released. “We had to request him to allow us to do our work,” said a police officer.

Another corporator came to the police station in the middle of the night to get the release of a qazi wanted in connection with a marriage case registered with the Chandrayangutta police. When the police asked if he knew on what charges the qazi was picked up, he feigned ignorance.

In last two days, the Falaknuma police complex has been frequented by small leaders of various political parties. “Huge money is involved. The brokers, who lured the foreigners, were ready to shell out lakhs of rupees. Right from leading advocates to leaders, they sought help from almost all the people,” said a police officer.

The politicians said that the Old City would get a bad name if such issues were highlighted. Some even said that the image of the government would be affected. Social activist say cases relating to trafficking in women and drugs should be assigned to special agencies like the crime investigation department.

“The local police have to maintain a good rapport with local politicians as they require their help to maintain peace during political meets and religious processions. Such high profile cases should be handled by specialised agencies where the officers are seldom in contact with local politicians,” said S.Q. Masood.

He says the next job for the police is to track down the brokers who are absconding and break the network. "Only if there is no political interference can the menace be full curbed. How can any government or geographical area get a bad name if vices are curbed?" asks Lubna Sarwath, an activist.

Hyderabad police to up vigil
The city police has begun to crack down on repeated cases of ‘contract’ marriages in the city, where women are sold to foreign nationals, usually from the Middle East. The women are usually very young and often they are just used by the so-called husbands for a few months and then abandoned. Sometimes they are taken back to the husband’s country where they are exploited by others.

A new team will keep tabs on the activities of ‘brokers’ known to be facilitating these marriages. In the last few months, there has been a drastic increase in such cases of trafficking in the Old City. Hyderabad commissioner M. Mahender Reddy said that an informer’s network will be put in place.

The police have identified 38 brokers, including 24 women, and will be monitoring their activities. They will ‘geo-tag’ the locations where these suspects stay. Following, raids on lodges, some people have converted their homes into guesthouses and renting them to brokers to accommodate foreigners from the Middle East. The police have identified 20 such guest houses.
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 Saturday September 09, 2017

Marriage most foul

K. Venkateshwarlu reports from the old city of Hyderabad on child brides
 
They are married to Arab men old enough to be their fathers.

Noorjahan (name changed) was like any other 15-year-old Muslim girl from the old city of Hyderabad ­ bound by tradition, and coy, but as impetuous as the average teenager. She wore a burqa to the government school where she studied and the garment helped hide her torn school bag, a mark of poverty. Noorjahan and her friends were pranksters and the one kilometre walk to school was never short on adventure.

Both Noorjahan’s house and school are located in the Muslim-dominated Nawab Saheb Kunta, a ghetto of labyrinthine lanes. This squatter settlement that came up on the bed of a pond is only a stone’s throw away from the Nizam-era’s opulent hilltop palace named Falaknuma, now a five-star hotel belonging to the Taj group. Wealth and poverty sit side by side in this area of the old city.

Noorjahan was different from her classmates. While everyone dreamt of lucrative careers post studies in professional courses, the young girl, perhaps acutely conscious of her modest family background, harboured dreams of becoming a schoolteacher. Though rated average by her class teachers, Noorjahan tried hard to score better marks, recalls her primary schoolteacher, Amtul Habeeb.

 
 
Little Noorjahan was shocked to hear the groom’s age. He was 65, twenty years older than her father. But as her aunt and uncle hammered away, she gave in. After all, her father was not getting any younger and his meagre daily wage of 300 troubled her. Noorjahan became quiet and withdrawn. All that was required now was for her to say ‘Nikah qubool hai’ (I agree to the marriage) in the presence of a qazi (who performs a marriage), after which a bundle of notes would be pressed into her father’s hand and she would be required to sign on blank papers which would be used later in the event of a divorce. A file of fake documents, including a voter identity card and an Aadhaar card, would be furnished to show her age as 18, and a video of a grand lifestyle she could lead in West Asia would be passed around for her relatives to see.

The modus operandi

Noorjahan is not an isolated case of ‘Arab nikah’, as this type of Muslim marriage is known in Hyderabad. The modus operandi is the same. Detailed conversations with multiple sources in the police and the community reveal the sad picture of how a group of dalals (touts) persuade vulnerable, impoverished families with three or four minor daughters with a story of how sheikhs hold the promise of altering their lives for the better. In some cases, they say this is a ‘short-term marriage of convenience’ in exchange for money.

Once convinced, the family pressures their young daughters. Touts produce documents to show the girl as an adult and her signature is taken on blank bond papers, to come in useful later in the case of a divorce. Meanwhile, the touts enter into a deal with the sheikhs, who fly into the country and camp in local hotels and guest houses once the deal is sealed. A pliable qazi is located, and the marriage solemnised within minutes. In most cases, the sheikh spends some time with the little girl and leaves for home after divorcing her. In the last seven years, over a dozen such child marriages to wealthy Arabs have been performed, at least two to three a year, most of these marriages lasting from a few days to a few months.

Such marriages have become public largely on account of cases registered in five police station limits in Hyderabad. Many more may have escaped the radar, such as the case of a 17-year-old girl who had approached the Santoshnagar Police Station stating that her parents and touts were trying to perform her marriage for the sixth time in January 2014. Her five marriages in the previous two years had ended in divorce, she had said in her statement.

The girl’s ordeal began soon after she completed tenth grade. She was first married to Basheer of Nagpur, an NRI, and then to Jamal of Pune, both for 30,000 each. Next in line were two Saudi sheikhs after payments ranging from 50,000 to 1 lakh were made. Her fifth marriage was to a Bahrain national, and the sixth to a Sudanese, both weddings together bringing home her parents 2 lakh. But it was before the sixth marriage that she fled, and with the help of a local NGO, filed a complaint against her parents. In the complaint, she narrated how her parents spent all the money they received in leading a luxurious lifestyle. Her father, who had four wives, got her two sisters married in the same way in return for money.

But unlike her, not many Hyderabadi Muslims want to speak about this child bride bazaar, let alone acknowledge it as commonplace. With a close vigil on such practices, however, the Arab nikahs appear to have come down, even if they show no signs of ending.

The heyday of such marriages was in the late 1970s and ’80s, and the chosen months were July, August and September when wealthy Arab sheikhs would dash to Hyderabad, indulge in multiple marriages with the help of touts, and then scoot home.

When the marriages did not work back home, the sheikh would simply say ‘talaq, talaq, talaq’ and dispatch the young girl to Hyderabad with the promise of sending maintenance, which would never come. The police estimate hundreds of such contract marriages. A few years ago, Hyderabad saw the unusual spectacle of these hapless women left behind by sheikhs hitting the road seeking support for their livelihood. Many of them have ended up as domestic helps.

In the 1990s, ten-year-old child bride Ameena’s case shot into the limelight when flight attendant Amrita Ahluwalia rescued her from Yahya al-Sagih, a 60-year-old Saudi who married her and was taking her to his country. Asked why she was married off like that, her father, Badruddin, an autorickshaw driver, had this to say: “I earn 20 to 40 a day, which is hardly enough to feed my wife, six daughters, and two sons.”

Duped by relatives and touts
Noorjahan’s case is somewhat different. While a majority of those who got married to sheikhs were left behind after short-term contract marriages, her husband, Ahmed, took her to Oman. But even before the wedding mehndi on her palms dried, she ran into problems.

Noorjahan frantically made calls to her parents to rescue her, often crying that she was treated worse than a slave. When her father called Ahmed, the sheikh made it clear that he would not send the girl back till the family returned the mehr of 5 lakh. By now it was evident to the family that they had been duped not only by the sheikh, but also by their own relatives and a ring of touts.

With no trace of Sikander, Ghousia, or their friends, Noorjahan’s mother knocked on the doors of the Falaknuma Police Station. Police investigations have so far revealed that Sikander has arranged the marriages of several women with Arabs. “I made a mistake by marrying her off like that and relying on Sikander,” laments Noorjahan’s father. “A poor but young rickshaw-puller would have been better. All he has given us so far is 7,000, a used Honda Activa, and an air cooler.”

Falaknuma Inspector of Police P. Yadagiri says they have booked cases under provisions of the Child Marriage Act, POCSO (Protection of Children Against Sexual Offences Act), and Sections of the Indian Penal Code relating to rape, trafficking, and cheating by the people named by Noorjahan’s parents. Though the parents are equally culpable, the police is taking a sympathetic view in this case.

But the case got bigger and bigger. Given the gravity of the situation, the Assistant Commissioner of Police, Mohammed Tajuddin Ahmed, was appointed as the investigating officer. As the news spread via national TV channels and social media, Union Welfare Minister Maneka Gandhi tweeted seeking the help of External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj. Even as the Indian Embassy, the Government of India, and the Government of Telangana try their best to get her back, Noorjahan’s plight has once again brought into focus the poor economic and living conditions of Muslims in the old city of Hyderabad.

Why are there child brides?
The narratives here have common elements: illiteracy, religious beliefs, and a desperation to earn money, with the dubious role of qazis thrown in. Families who marry off their minor girls often disappear to escape detection. “Among a section of Muslims, there is this belief that attaining puberty is enough to marry off the girls, not when the girls turn 18. There are families in Hafeez Baba Nagar who find nothing wrong in minor girls being married off to elderly Arab sheikhs. Then there are qazis who advocate marriage at the age of 16, their contention being that sexual desires start around that age,” says Jameela Nishat, a social activist who runs an NGO called Shaheen that works for gender justice and rehabilitation of child brides deserted by sheikhs.

But not many are as outspoken as Jameela and no Muslim politician has come forward to offer his or her views on this regressive practice, let alone condemn the marriages. Neither has the practice of child marriage to sheikhs found political traction, nor has it entered popular discourse. Mazher Hussain, executive director of the Confederation of Voluntary Associations, a national network of voluntary organisations working for communal harmony and empowerment, says the trend is “nothing but trafficking in the garb of nikah.” He says it is a “gross misuse of nikah”. Though poverty is a factor, the bigger danger is the acceptance of this practice as a norm, Mazher says.

A ritual left behind
Hyderabad had a long history of Nizams hiring Chaush Arabs, mostly from Yemen, as military guards who were lodged in barracks (now known by the corrupted colloquial name of Barkas). These Arabs brought along with them the ritual of paying dowry and offering gifts to families who gave their girls in marriage. When oil was struck in Saudi Arabia and other parts of West Asia, and the situation turned tumultuous in Hyderabad in the late 1940s, a number of Chaush Arabs preferred to return to their country, taking with them their local wives and relatives. But the ritual stayed behind. Payment for brides became the vogue, although at that time the intention for this was supposedly good. It was meant to help the families of the brides and prevent the decline of economic status of Muslims after the rule of the seventh Nizam, Mir Osman Ali Khan, ended in 1948, resulting in the merger of the erstwhile Hyderabad State with the Indian Union. “This has now degenerated into this practice of buying child brides,” Mazher says. “We need to attack this norm by discrediting it much like how the practice of Sati was discredited.” Also a section of qazis, who follow a system of appointing naib qazis (assistant qazis) who perform these child marriages, have to be blamed, he says.

The qazis don’t agree. “Qazis are being blamed unnecessarily. We go by the documents submitted to us and not by the people who request us to perform the marriage. Will it be proper to lift the veil and see how old the bride is?” asks Syed Shakir Ali, a qazi from Nampally. “Yes, there are some unscrupulous qazis, but to say everyone is like that is wrong. The onus is on the parents of the bride. They ought to be careful. Before performing the nikah, I insist on seeing the passport, or the Aadhaar card, or the voter identity card and (conduct the marriage) in the presence of the father or the guardian and two witnesses. If somebody forges one of these documents, how can the qazi be held responsible? What is the Telangana government doing to end the social menace?” he asks.

In response, the Secretary of the Minorities Welfare Department of the Telangana government, Syed Omar Jaleel, says, “The government plans to bring out an ordinance and later a legislation banning all foreigners from marrying girls here unless they come with proper documents or a declaration before immigration authorities stating that their purpose of visit is to marry a woman of statutorily mandated marriageable age and that they would take care of them,” he says. “The man will be liable to undergo imprisonment of seven years under Section 196 of the IPC (if found guilty).”

To address poverty, which is at the root of this problem, the government is proposing to launch a women empowerment programme. This will involve extending loans for women and offering financial assistance of 50,000 to each family to perform the marriage of their daughter. Mr. Jaleel also spoke of revamping the outdated Qazis Act of 1880 and changing rules to make the qazis more accountable.

Economic support to the poor and compulsory education of girls could address this issue, says a young girl who was married off at the age of 12 to a 70-year-old man from Oman. She described to this correspondent her marriage that lasted all of three months, the whole time during which the old man stayed with her in a hotel room before leaving her.

“I was helpless,” she said. “My father was an alcoholic and my mother worked as a domestic help. Under the influence of dalals, they married me off to an elderly Arab. He promised to take me with him soon after the marriage. But he failed to keep his promise. One day he uttered talaq thrice over the phone and slammed the phone down. That was the last time I heard from him.”

She now has a baby to look after and works as a domestic help. She also attends tailoring classes in the hope of securing a future for her child. At least her daughter must get an education that she had to sadly forgo. Dreams of the next generation must not die young.