The cities of Rawalpindi and Islamabad appear to have observed an unprecedented rise in the number of divorce-related cases filed between January to August, 2021.
During the same time, the cities also seem to have experienced a surge in incidents of domestic abuse; forcing over 200 married and unmarried women to escape toxic households and seek refuge at shelter houses like Darulaman.
Per legal records, in the last eight months, a total of 8,239 new pleas, pertaining to affairs like the return of dowry, alimony and other marital expenses were filed in twin-city courts, in connection to various spousal disassociation cases.
In that period, the courts allowed over 2,913 women to annul their troubled marriages, and escape the custody of their spouses and in-laws, while some 31 women were sent back to the very homes they were endeavouring to escape.
It was also during this time that girls as young as 14 years of age were reported to have eloped and married older men, while only three per cent older than 20 years of age had chosen to run away to marry.
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According to senior family lawyer Samina Bukhari, in the majority of reports pertaining to underage girls eloping with older men, social media apps like Facebook, TikTok, Messanger and WhatsApp had been used by prying men as outlets to contact and groom the girls. “Most of these marriages happen to fail in periods as short as three months, and can potentially put underage girls in harm’s way,” opined Bukhari.
Undergoing marriage and divorce at such tender ages can often lead to a long-term impact on the mental and physical health of women. Oftentimes, such experiences obstruct their education and draw social stigma, which can further traumatise victims of domestic abuse and hamper chances of recovery.
“At the time of pursuing, fraudulent men tend to mask their flaws on the internet and entice girls they can groom. Later, after marriage, when their reality comes to fore, these girls find themselves haunted by domestic abuse at the hands of their spouses and in-laws, and need legal aid to escape the toxic situation,” told the advocate.
Per Nargis Shaheen, another senior lawyer who deals with cases of spousal separation, earlier, it would take up to three to four years for family cases like divorce to be settled by the courts. “Often, the elders of the family would intervene and try to make the couple cohabit and sort out their issues,” she told.
Speaking in this regard, Human Rights Association Secretary Tayyaba Abbasi said that parents should monitor social-media usage by their underage children and be vigilant when dropping them off or picking them up from schools.
It is in places like such that men who lurk on young girls usually pick their targets so it is the parents’ or guardians’ responsibility to be more watchful until their children come of age, she said.
“When such cases come to us later on, they put us in quite a bit of quandary because interfering can get very tricky when two are legally married,” she told The Express Tribune.