Jeevti from Pakistan would like to tell you so herself.
Unfortunately, at this time of year, we tend to overlook how incredibly blessed we are. We live in a free world, where we should not have to fear being penalized for our gender, sexual orientation, beliefs, or values. This is a fact we take for granted; in many other countries, simply being born female makes you an immediate target.
My thoughts and prayers this week are with a young Pakistani girl named Jeevti. She lived with her family, who lived and worked on a farm owned by someone else. When they initially began working this land, Jeevti’s family borrowed the equivalent of $500. This loan spiraled into more and more debt for this family, who was struggling to pay it back. The final total doubled the original amount. In Pakistan, there is a terrifying (and under-the-radar accepted) method of debt repayment: young girls.
One night, Jeevti’s family was forced to sleep outside on their lawn because of unbearable heat. When they woke the next morning, Jeevti was gone. The man who gave her family this loan, Hamid Brohi, decided that Jeevti would suffice as the $1,000 they owed him. In the middle of the night, this man stole a fourteen-year-old little girl away from her family to keep as his property.
The family hired a well-known activist to aid them in freeing their little girl. Veero Kohli also captured by a man when she was a young girl, and she now works to free oppressed females in Pakistan. Kohli went to the authorities immediately, and was extremely let down by their response (note: Pakistan is an incredibly male-dominated society, wherein all women are viewed as “less than”.) \
The police informed Kohli that there was no rescue needed, seeing as Jeevti clearly went with Brohi of her own free will. She even signed a statement that expressed her desire to marry Brohi and convert from her family’s Hindu religion to Islam. She also changed her name from her Hindu name Jeevti to the traditional Islamic name Fatima.
Here enlies the problem: Jeevti cannot read. Jeevti signed this statement signifying that these were, essentially, her own words. She could very well not even know what she has signed! Also, she could have easily been coerced (read: threatened) into signing the statement. Kohli paid a visit to Brohi’s home to see Jeevti for herself.
Jeevti reportedly kept eyeing her new husband fearfully. She also “could not remember” quite what she said in her signed statements, contradicting them several times. When Kohli returned to the home, the room in which she met Jeevti was padlocked. When Kohli asked around the community, no one there had heard of a Fatima or Jeevti at all. When Kohli called the police again, they simply dismissed her concerns.
This is an uncommon tragedy in Pakistan. Little girls are frequently taken by grown men and sexually assaulted, forced into marriage, and forced to convert to Islam (if they are not yet Islamic.) Girls from Christian and Hindu families are often those targeted, especially those found to be conventionally attractive. As if this situation is not dire enough, it is worsened only by the fact that all of it is regarded as legal.
While we are all celebrating such a joyful time in our lives, I hope we can remember those who are unable to feel this happiness. For Jeevti’s family, their lives will never be normal again until their family is made whole again with the release of their daughter. As of now, that is not looking like a strong possibility.
Somewhere in Pakistan, there is a scared little girl who was forced into something no one should have to go through-- and remember, Jeevti is far from the only one. If a fourteen-year-old in the United States was set to marry a grown man, a whole country would take up arms!
Please, at the very least, do not forget the plight of girls like Jeevti. Imagine how she feels: not only is she trapped and in danger, she is stuck in a country who views this as normal.
Humans are not property. Humans cannot be bought, sold, and traded. This is disgusting, and I will not REST until this practice is put to an end. Don’t give up, Jeevti.