The Custom Of Vani in Pakistan

Categories: PakistanSociety

Social sciences concerns with the society, specifically human behavior and the relationship each individual shares with each other. It helps an individual to understand the workings of the world and humans, nurturing an individual to become more empathetic and understanding towards each other and the society. One branch of social sciences concerns with the social issues of society we live in. Even though we live in the 21st century there are many barbaric customs that are carried out till date in many parts of the world.

Due to urbanization and our privileged lives we feel that we are progressing but there’s a whole different world out there in the rural areas of Pakistan that we have little knowledge of. Today, even though the concept of feminism is spreading, it is only limited to some parts as male dominate societies still exist where women are treated worse than animals. We may see small paragraphs about them in newspapers once in a while, but they mostly go ignored.

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One such custom is called Vani. In a society where women are married off without consent, married off to the Quran and become victim of honor killing, the prevalence of vani cannot be ruled out.

Vani, a heinous practice, also known as Swara, is an ancient cultural custom, in which minor girls aged between 4 to 14 years old, are forcibly married off, as part of a punishment for the crime committed by the male members of the family. However, in some parts of Pakistan, this custom is also used to resolve issues of debt, Zina (fornication) and as a compensation for abduction.

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This ‘solution’ for solving enmity between two tribes is given by a group of tribal elders, known as Jirga when any feud, mostly blood feud occurs between them. Sometimes blood money can be offered to resolve the issue but vani is considered as the more easy way out. If the family of the victim or the victim herself opposes or goes against the decision of the ‘Panchait’ or the ‘Jigra, they will have to face the consequences of much serious crimes such as murder of the family members or rape.

The name Vani is derived from the Pashto word ‘Wannay’, which means blood. There are three kinds of vani. One is the one sided Swara in which the aggressor group gives the girl to the distressed group with a word of the mouth to the Jirga that there will be no further bloodshed. Sometimes some blood money is also offered as a guarantee for keeping this promise. The other kind of Vani is known as two sided Swara, in which both parties exchange vanis with each other and guarantee to maintain peace. The third kind is known as the three sided swara, which is a unique type in which similar to the other swaras, the aggressor hands over one girl to the other party but in addition, two other girls from each side are also handed over to strengthen the relationship between the two families.

Vani, similar to arranged child marriage, is mostly practiced in the rural areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan for example Interior Sindh, Punjab, the district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and other tribal areas. Even though this practice was banned in Pakistan between 2005 and 2011, Vani is still prevalent in conservative areas of Pakistan and has spread to other provinces as well. Vani concerns social scientists because it is a clear breach of human rights as after the girl is given off as a vani her whole world comes crashing down into pieces as she is not given honor, respect and freedom in the new family. How the swara is treated at her new house is just horrifying. Instead she is treated worse than a maid, made to do all the house chores and is made to feel inferior. Childhood which are supposed to be the carefree days of life, are turned into the most miserable days for girls given off as vanis only because of the prevailing ignorance in the society they live in. These young girls also become target of domestic violence, gang rape and in extreme cases they are even burnt alive while some resort to suiciding. This is a sign that that the society we are residing in has a darker side which has to be given attention so that one crime does not give birth to another one.

This cruel, unislamic and heartless practice came into existence almost 400 years ago and continues to ruin lives of innocent girls till date. 400 years ago when two tribes, known as the northwestern Pakistan Pashtun tribes, belonging to Mianwali (a district of Punjab province in Pakistan) fought a dreadful war against each other, about 800 people lost their lives in this mishap. As a result of this war, tension between the two tribes further escalated. That is when the Nawab, the regional ruler responsible to bring in peace, settled the war by calling a Jirga/Punchait of elders from both sides. The elders decided that the dispute and crime of men could be settled by giving their girls as Vanis, a retaliatory punishment. Hence, it was decided that the guilty person would have to give his daughter, niece or sister to the other family. They considered this as the only way of resolving the feud and as a pact to avoid any further bloodshed. Later on, this became a custom which was passed on from generation to generation.

Ever since then, tribal and rural Jirgas have been using young virgin girls aged from 4 to 14 years old, through child marriages, to settle crimes such as murder by men, adultery and abduction.

This blood for blood tradition is an issue very few people talk about. When a girl is born into a family, she is considered as the respect of the family. Howsoever just because you brought up the girl, does not give you the right to take life decisions for her. A lot of people aren’t even aware of this issue as well. Vani is a great social issue as it deprives young girls from basic right to education, tarnishes their innocence of childhood and subjects them to domestic violence and marital rape. It is also a violation of basic human rights. Practices like these prevail due to the lack of education, awareness and inability of the government to provide justice to families of the victims of murders, which is why the law is taken into hands by the local Jirga systems. But the real question is that why a sister should be punished for the crime committed by her brother? The sister becomes a lifetime slave to someone while the brother who originally committed the crime moves about freely. This further gives an incentive for people to commit crimes because they know they won’t be punished, instead their sisters or daughters will pay the price for it. This way women will never be given the respect and freedom that they deserve in such areas because it’s a unbreakable cycle. A lot of cases of vani go un-talked about because there is no media coverage in rural areas. The ability to bypass the law has made it even easier for such tribal clans to take the law into their hands. Although this act has been banned by the Paistan High court, the lack of interest shown by police and the law enforcing agencies has led to hundreds of girls being given off as vanis at the tender age of 14.

The woman is traded like an animal. Once married, she is little better than a slave," said Khalil ur Rehman, a lawyer and human rights advocate in Mianwali, a wheat-growing district 110 miles south-west of Islamabad where vani is common. Thirty-four cases of vani were reported across the Punjab during the last five years. As per report released by Punjab Commission on the Status of Women (PCSW), three cases of vani were reported from District Rajanpur, three cases from Layyah, two cases from Dera Ghazi Khan and one each case was reported from District Bhakkar, Jhang, Vehari, Sahiwal, Multan, Lodhran, Khanewal, Bahawalnagar and Rahimyar Khan in 2017. Tanvir Jahan, a social activist, said that girls, sometimes infants too, were given in marriage as compensation for murder / crime committed by their men in Jirga system in the name of vani or Khoon Baha. She condemned this rite and called it inhuman. According to her, in this rite, innocent girls paid heavy price for the crimes committed by their brother, father and other male family members. The women were treated as a slave and given in vani, she said.


The practice of Vani violates the constitution of the country. Article 9 of the Constitution guarantees that no person shall be deprived of life or liberty. It also violates Article 4 of the Constitution that guarantees that every citizen has full right to enjoy the protection of the law. On the contrary, Vani practice blatantly violates it. For practices like Swara and child marriages it is extremely essential that a society of tolerance is established, where men and women are not discriminated between. Till the time laws for severe punishment for crimes such as murder, fornication and abduction are not implemented, Jirga systems will continue to prevail and people living in rural areas will keep depending of them for justice.

In conclusion, the government should take appropriate measures against this tit for tat tradition before it is further on passed to the coming generations. Not only does this violate basic human rights but causes extreme mental and physical trauma to young girls residing in rural areas where there is no guarantee for the protection of their rights. The Government should play a vital role and firmly deal with this issue by creating awareness and providing basic primary education facilities to rural areas so that this thinking can be erased. Laws should be made as such that anyone who practices this is critically punished and the Jirga system can be abolished. Not only is this the duty of the government but also of educated and privileged individuals/members of the society. A campaign should be launched on a massive level to create awareness.

In this regard, the NGOs can also play an effective role by creating awareness so that tomorrow another innocent girl does not fall prey to the swara custom.

Updated: Feb 02, 2024
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The Custom Of Vani in Pakistan. (2024, Feb 02). Retrieved from

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