Dowry is, in many cultures, a transaction that takes place between the families of bride and groom. The family of the bride provides valuable items (gold, car, household items, livestock, etc.), money, or property to the bride or groom on the marriage of their daughter. It is a well-known and practiced tradition in many parts of the world. People practice dowry because of the concept that dowry will protect their daughters both financially and socially. Many parents give dowry to their daughters to bring ease in their life after marriage taking some financial strain while some give dowry to protect their daughters from being looked down on by their new family and society. In any case, it puts the bride’s family under financial, social, and psychological pressure. Another rationale behind the practice of dowry is that it relieves a young couple of the financial burden in the initial years of their marriage. In short, dowry is a financial transaction between brides’ families and grooms’ families, in various forms.
History of Dowry
The history of dowry goes back to the ‘Code of Hammurabi’ in 1780 BCE, which is regarded as the oldest written document containing 282 written laws to ensure justice in the Babylonian civilization. According to this ancient document, women did not have the right to control their wealth or property. It was the father of the husband who can handle their wealth. So, when a woman lived in her father’s house, it was the father who owned her wealth, and later it was transferred to her husband. Not only this but the husband has rights to some percentage of her wealth. In case the husband dies or breaks off the marriage, the wealth will go back to the bride’s father or her sons – if she has any.
“If a man would put away his wife who has not borne him children, he shall give her money to the amount of her marriage settlement and he shall make good to her the dowry which she brought from her father’s house and then he may put her away.” (Law 138)
Similarly, the Eurasian culture, Ancient Greek and Roman civilizations had the same concept of dowry where husbands had rights to the wealth of the bride transferred by her father. Sometimes, the dowry was directly presented to the groom or his family. With time, the concept of dowry declined as women demanded their right to inheritance and property. However, the tradition of dowry continued to be practiced in the Sub-continent. Even after its division, the separated countries, India and Pakistan, practice dowry as a tradition, to this day.
Dowry in the Modern World
The practice of dowry – though outdated – is still used in many parts of the world. It is still seen as a compulsory ritual of marriage. On one hand, many regions like South Asia, America, and Europe have moved on from the said tradition; on the other hand, countries like India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, etc. regard dowry as an important part of their lives.
However, education and awareness have changed the mindset of many people on this complicated subject. Some percentage of people have now started to condemn this unethical practice. Unfortunately, things are different in theory and practice. Societal pressure and fear of safety of their girls, many brides’ families spend their lives collecting money or items for the dowry of their daughter. This practice may not be a source of stress for families who can afford to provide their daughters with the dowry but it becomes very difficult for poor families. It is unfortunate to see a society that still promotes such practices and make a joyous occasion like marriage into a burden.
Dowry Practice in Pakistan
The dowry system (jahez) in Pakistan is complex. Some portion of society discourages this practice whereas, other encourages it. Besides, there are subtle demands for dowry or material possession from the groom’s side of the family that puts pressure on the bride and her family. There are many cases where a bride lost her life due to the violence by her in-laws and husband because of bringing fewer dowry possessions with her. In Pakistan, there are approximately 2000 dowry death cases per year. After India, Pakistan has the highest rate of dowry death in the world. The dire situation is putting a financial and psychological toll on girls’ families. It is common knowledge that parents start saving for their daughters’ dowry the day she is born. Not only this but the expenses of marriage put additional pressure on the families.
Dowry is a Curse for Society
The culture of dowry in Pakistan has become so toxic and normal that it has started to affect even the elite class of the country. The lower class cannot afford to have the luxury of this tradition and the upper class who denies following the culture face difficulties in the process. Though the dowry system puts pressure on both genders in a way that male members of the family i.e. father and brother have to save their earnings to collect dowry for their daughters and sisters. But this system has become a nightmare for girls. Here are the harmful effects of the dowry system.
Families of daughters or girls start saving money and collect dowry for their wedding. This common practice leaves little room for them to enjoy a healthy lifestyle and puts a financial strain on their households. On the other hand, they have to maintain a certain status for their houses that will attract potential future in-laws for the marriage of their daughters. Many bride parents have to take marriage loans to fulfill the lavish demands of the groom and his family, which take a lifetime to return these loans.
Delaying of Marriage Process
Another commonly seen practice is the delaying of a girl’s marriage due to the inability to fulfill the lavish dowry expectations of the groom’s family. Many girls are rejected on this basis adding up to their psychological trauma. Delayed marriage comes with the added societal pressure for older unmarried girls. Consequently, causing various psychological issues such as lower self-esteem and confidence, doubting one’s abilities, anxiety, depression, etc. These issues are extended to their families as well.
Domestic Violence on Girls
One of the many causes of domestic violence on girls is less valuable items in a girl’s dowry. According to White Ribbon Pakistan, an NGO for women’s rights states that from the years 2011 to 2017, there were 51 – 52 thousand cases of domestic violence that were reported by the victims. Not to mention the cases that go unreported. Studies report 2-3 deaths out of every 100,000 women are caused by domestic violence due to dowry. Currently, Pakistan has the highest number of dowry deaths of women in the world. These statistics have become a nightmare for thousands of families and they try their best to provide a lavish dowry to their daughter to ensure their safety.
Dowry weighs more than a Girl’s Education
In societies where dowry is still an integral part of their lives, the importance of dowry outweighs girls’ education. To collect dowry and escape financial stress, families often neglect a girl’s education instead save that money for their wedding. School fees become a waste of money for many families. This factor remains a huge hurdle in the development of these societies and results in the continuation of this cycle. More than often, many teenage girls have to forcefully earn to make the ends meet increasing the rate of child labor.
A major cause of Infanticide
With the fear of financial stress of dowry that comes with every girl, many families chose to either abort their baby girls or opt for infanticide (killing an infant). The rate of girls’ infanticide may have decreased in the urban side but it still a common practice in many rural areas.
Dowry Promotes Gender Inequality
The concept of dowry not only belittles a women’s value by comparing her with materialist items but it also promotes gender inequality. This treatment of girls as property or transaction material dehumanizes women in general and presents them as a burden. Each time a bride family has to pay the groom or his family for taking in the brides, it reinforce the concept that women are second class citizen.
Loss of Women’s Financial Independence
Initially, the dowry system was adopted to protect the girls by giving them some financial aid for their new life. The money given to girls was meant to be a cushion for a girl that belonged to the girl only. Over time, the system became corrupt and the whole family of the groom kept the dowry with them with no return policy in case of separation. This has robbed the girls of their financial freedom.
Materialism over Human Value
Ideally, marriage should be a legal system that is based on the personalities of both bride and groom. However, the normalization of dowry has left a girl’s personality, education, religiosity, and human character behind the materialistic needs – who can provide a more lavish dowry to the groom’s family get to marry the groom.
Constitution of Pakistan and Dowry
Given the increasing dowry-related crime rate, the involvement of government, authorities, and law becomes necessary. The laws in the constitutions of Pakistan that prevent the unethical and evil practice of dowry from spreading are as follows:
- Dowry and Bridal Gift Restriction Act 1976 restricts expenditure on dowry and gifts within Rs. 5000 and incompliance to this act can result in imprisonment or fine up to Rs. 10,000 (or both). The law is there since 1976 but there seems to be no practical implication of the law as the dowry system goes smoothly in weddings.
- Sindh Restriction of Dowry Act, 2017 banns dowry and consider ‘asking for dowry’ a punishable crime.
- Punjab Marriage Function Act was also made to ban dowry and exceeding the expenditure of weddings over a stipulated limit.
- Another step was taken in 2000 to prevent over-expenditure on wedding functions – the Marriage Functions (Prohibition of Ostentatious Displays and Wasteful Expenses) Ordinance, 2000.
- Due to the poor control on dowry tradition, in 2010, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) Assembly passed a resolution to put a complete ban on dowry practice.
- Later in 2017, the KP Assembly passed a bill – Bridal Gift and Marriage Functions Restriction Bill to put rest to the dowry system and over-expenditure on wedding functions. It restricts the gift given by the bride family to the groom family within Rs. 10,000.
“Any property given before, at or after the marriage either directly or indirectly, to the bride by her parents in connection with the marriage, but it does not include property which the bride may inherit under the laws of inheritance and succession applicable to her.”
However, legislating a law is one thing, and enforcing it is another thing. Despite, all the laws, several cases near everyone’s vicinity reinforce the dowry system. The dowry may have been banned on paper but it is still very much practiced in many areas of Pakistan. Actions should be taken to enforce these laws among the masses.
Counter Dowry System
The dowry system has become a curse for society and it should be controlled for the development of society and nation. On an institutional level, the government must make full proof laws that restrict the exploitation of this tradition. Violators of these laws should be convicted strictly to achieve better results. However, the crime cannot be convicted when they are not reported, which often happens. Many cases of dowry go unreported. For this purpose, the government should collaborate with the clergy of the country to promote dowry as an illegal and non-Islamic concept. In a country like Pakistan, clergy hold utmost power over the minds and hearts of people. It should be utilized in these matters to promote a healthy society.
On the other hand, it is the responsibility of every individual to work on an individual level to discourage dowry practice. Educating both girls and boys is not only important for dowry matter but other societal issues. Educate the girls to value themselves instead of agreeing to a large amount of dowry. Similarly, educate boys on these matters so that they can fight society by discouraging this practice. This education should be provided through homes, schools, and religious authorities collectively to have a greater impact.
Dowry has been a common practice for many years. It is now becoming a curse for society and putting the lives of girls at risk. No matter what the causes of increasing dowry practices are, society must fight against it. Legislating laws is the government’s role whereas, enforcing them becomes a duty of every member of society too. Only this way this evil can be eradicated.
Read About | Kashmir Conflict | Resolving Kashmir Conflict and role of International Community