India’s contract marriages: When Sheikhs marry, rape and divorce child brides, all in one week

Published: September 24, 2017
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A Newar girl shows her palms decorated with henna to the camera during an Ihi ceremony. PHOTO: REUTERS

Poverty is not a crime, but it surely is a curse for docile Muslim girls in the poverty-driven city of Hyderabad, India. Why, you ask? Because young girls from impoverished families are forced to marry ageing and rich men.

Since the 90s, Hyderabad has been a hunting ground for the rich philanderers from oil-rich countries to seek young and virgin brides. Over the years, numerous unfortunate stories of teenaged brides wedded to ageing Arabs have unfolded at regular intervals. Recently, 20 people were arrested in a major crackdown against a ‘Sheikh marriage’ racket, which hints towards a much greater issue.

Amidst poor living conditions and rising dowry demands from local suitors, families are compelled to marry off their teenage girls (as young as 14 and sometimes even 11) to Sheikhs from the Gulf or African countries. For an agreed amount, the poor girls are wedded off to these rich Sheikhs who are almost their father’s age.

Nevertheless, for countless poor families in the poverty-ridden city, this monetary proposal is irresistible. Besides, the fact that families are so large, with seven to 10 children, paying exorbitant sums of cash as dowry becomes difficult. Desperate families find it easier to receive a good amount through a contract marriage from an older man, rather than paying a prospective groom’s family from their own pocket.

And so, the girls settle for a nikkah against their wishes, as they are blindsided by their parents who tell them they are doing it for their family’s needs and requirements. Most often, the story unfolds with the common narrative that there is no money to feed the younger siblings, so if she puts her selfishness aside and gets married to the old man, she can rescue them and become the family’s saviour. The girl is ultimately left with no choice whatsoever.

As bizarre as it may sound, the wealthy Sheikh bails out the poverty-stricken family like a knight in shining armour, by making a deal with the needy parents for a few thousand rupees. Next, the child bride ends up selling both her body and soul to the old man, who is interested only in raping the virgin bride. Although earlier, these men used to take their child wives back to their native countries as third or fourth wives. But now days, they either become maids or are sold as sex slaves.

Unfortunately, contract marriages seem to be on a rise. The rich Sheikhs coming from Gulf countries marry young girls and end up signing divorce papers at the same time. The divorce papers are dated after a week or two post the marriage date. In between the nikkah and the divorce date, the virgin bride is raped multiple times in a local lodge or a posh hotel, depending upon the amount of money the Sheikh gives to the broker. When it is time for the rich Arab to move out of Hyderabad, the girl is sent back to her home.

Shamelessly, the whole shebang of the deal is arranged by marriage brokers with the local Qazi, so that the old grooms can easily leave their brides back and return to their countries after doing what they had come for. Like many others, you must be wondering why a contract marriage though? Since Islam forbids prostitution, contract marriages are a simple way to dodge the forbidden act. However, contract marriages are also against Islamic rules, but some of the Qazis are ready to bend Shariah rules for the sake of money.

While the old peadophile returns to his home country unharmed, the divorced girl’s life changes for the worse. With her virginity lost, the now useless and ‘unclean’ girl is no more accepted back in her home. This is the reason why most often these girls (with no education or skill) either fall prey to prostitution or are married multiple times.

However, now that the Sheikh marriage ring is busted and the police has arrested three Qazis, five marriage brokers and four lodge owners along with nationals from Qatar and Oman, there is hope that the nexus between the brokers, the lodge owners and the Qazis can be broken.

This in turn can help in taming this curse of Hyderabad. But then, till the time the parents do not stop seeing their girl child as a means to get away from poverty, nothing can change.

Deepti Verma

Deepti Verma

The author is co-founder of NationalViews.com - an online portal for articulating opinions, views that needs national as well as global attention. She tweets @universal_rover

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Gunjan

    An inappropriate picture to the articles link on the homepage. You are showing a Nepali/Northeast Indian Hindu girl child celebrating a festival for this article covering a horrendous crime limited to the muslims of Hyderabad !Recommend

  • wb

    Sheikhs? First look within. They marry a women for sexual gratification for a week, month and then they divorce her.

    Congress government has strengthened these mullahs for over Seventy years. Now, it’s time for Modi to free Muslim men, women and children from the clutches of these peopleRecommend

  • uint32 .

    That’s why triple talaaq and polygamy should be banned in entire world.Recommend

  • Scrutator

    Can anyone comment on the article…or will it be censored all the time??Recommend

  • Varun

    Hi first of all I’m an Indian, accidently came to this blog, just now realised that it’s Pakistani, wondering some ridiculous news about India. First of all Hyderabad is not poverty driven. And we Indians have never heard of such news, might be some isolated issues happen, but that doesn’t mean that that’s a usual affair. Not surprised because we all hear the same about Pakistan through our medias. It’s really unfortunate watching some misleading news spreading everywhere.Recommend

  • Milind A

    The reason for this poverty and bride-selling amongst Muslims is lack of family planning. A Muslim family can hardly feed itself and they produce kids like anything.. Any talk of family planning is shot down by mullahs as unIslamic. No wonder all are malnourished and poor Recommend

  • Nithin

    Owaisi brothers wont let the Old city people to develop…cuase they will not get votes if they get proper education, jobs etc. Never. Also how on earth one can feed 19-20 children?Recommend

  • Fahim

    Contract marriage and without consent is crime and consider rape. But will india punish those sheikhs for raping ?Recommend

  • Yogi Berra

    Muslim women are perhaps worst oppressed class in India. There was news of how Mullahs exploit divorced women using Nikah halal. This must be all stopped. Thees women do need education and state protection. The issue is political parties except BJP, have always toed the line of Mullahs for votes. Modi must fulfill his promise to help oppressed Muslim women.Recommend

  • http://www.indianess.com creativeIndian

    start mingling with other communities and pick up science and maths booksRecommend

  • http://www.indianess.com creativeIndian

    wow moderators clipped my comment.. lol free speechRecommend

  • http://www.indianess.com creativeIndian

    start talking about family planning in mosques as that’s one place where people take things seriouslyRecommend

  • rumi52

    Varun ji I suggest that you watch the recent 2012 movie Agneepath with Hrithik Roshan where Rishi Kapoor plays the villain. Rishi’s character is shown selling young Muslim girls to rich Arab Sheikhs. I suggest that you also read about the child actors from the movie Slumdog Millionaire. There was a scandal just after the film was released as the father of one of the female child actors was rumored to have arranged a ‘deal’ to ‘marry’ his daughter to a Sheikh. This particular story has even been covered by the Indian Express see: http://indianexpress.com/article/india/contract-marriage-raids-police-arrest-eight-arab-sheikhs-in-hyderabad-who-wanted-to-marry-minor-girls/

    I am sure this happens in Pakistan as well, where you have rich men with money to burn and extreme poverty, exploitation will take place. Both India and Pakistan have people who live in extreme poverty.Recommend

  • rumi52

    Triple talaq is actually banned in many Muslim countries.Recommend

  • rumi52

    Neither India or Pakistan are willing to punish the rich Arab Sheikhs. Both countries have an interest in keeping the Gulf countries happy. Its a sad state of affairs.Recommend

  • Suchi Baat

    Are you telling me that every Hindu in India has a Arnold Schwarzenegger like body. Look at your self in the mirror again. What is the reason behind hindu population suffering from acute malnutrition and more than half population living below the poverty line. The Arab Sheikh marry Muslim woman because they are also Muslims.Recommend

  • Suchi Baat

    The triple talaq has been misused and misinterpreted. If you study the modern divorce law in the developed country, they allow 3 attempts to reconcile before a marriage is annulled. The triple talaaq works on the same principle.Recommend

  • Komal S

    This is big news in Hyderabad. If you live in Hyderabad, it is very common knowledge that poor young girls are married off to shekhs.Recommend

  • Parvez

    IF something like this is going on….its clearly being done with the connivance of the law enforcing agencies. Civil society, which has a loud voice in India, needs to make a noise and put a stop to it…..its disgusting irrespective of who’s involved.Recommend

  • rationalist

    I wondered about that too. Very misleading and mischievous picture.Recommend

  • rationalist

    @author, are you sure about this statement of yours: ” contract marriages are also against Islamic rules”?
    Recommend

  • Salim Alvi

    Muslims in India want to be more loyal to Arabs, their book and their prophet.Recommend

  • Khan

    What can be expected from rape capital of the entire universeRecommend

  • Milind A

    Every Hindu may not have a Arnold like body, but they’ll get there. Most of the poor Hindus are planning families as well and their status, lifestyle shows improvement..Recommend

  • ak

    You do realize that in this case “rapists” are exclusively from Middle Eastern “Islamic” nations including “holy” nation of Saudi? And the people selling their daughters are Muslims as well? So in nay case the blame lies with Muslims society Recommend

  • Patwari

    gp65 would have responded with a befitting scathing reply.
    That would have included devadasis, and observations on
    the national religion of Bharat.
    But refrained, because gave you the word.Recommend

  • Sane

    This is another feather in Indian capRecommend

  • Sane

    Along with this also care for scheduled caste Hindus, who are raped and killed by Barahama Hindus.Recommend

  • Yogi Berra

    Which Hindus you said? Come again. First learn about Hindus and then comment.Recommend

  • Sane

    Which Hindus? You need to learn. Dillats, who are they? are not Hindus?Recommend

  • Fahim

    You completely don’t understand Muslims, book and Prophet (sawaw)Recommend

  • Fahim

    We have more than 1.5 billion people in south asia and mostly earning below 10 dollars a day. Governments even afford but won’t try to make angry the rich arab sheikhs because we will forget next week that what had happened to these poor little girls.Recommend

  • rationalist

    True if you are talking about instant triple talaq. Other aspects of talaq still remain including giving only 90 day sustenance to the divorced woman.Recommend

  • gp65

    Thank you. There is a widespread need for women’s empowerment in India and Pakistan and issue should not be viewed from the prism of religion and nationality.
    Any concerns or suggestions should be made with sensitivity and empathy and not to diss the ‘other’.Recommend

  • gp65

    You are exactly right. The reason that this blog even exists is that just recently a gang indulging in this racket was bust by Hyderabad police https://www.ndtv.com/hyderabad-news/contract-marriage-racket-busted-in-hyderabad-8-sheikhs-among-20-arrested-1752954 and the interrogation of initial arrests led to more arrests http://www.indiatvnews.com/news/india-hyderabad-three-more-oman-nationals-arrested-in-connection-with-contract-marriage-racket-403431

    But gangs have been busted earlier also, just filling more water is not the solution, the leak has to be plugged metaphorically.
    .According to Hyderabad district child protection officer Imtyaz Rahim, the number of ‘contract marriages’ in old city area have come down compared to the past few years He further added “Over the past couple of years, we have also got the licenses of qazis cancelled after they were found performing such marriages,” he said.The authorities are already spreading awareness about the illegality of child marriages and ‘contract marriages’. “We will write to the Wakf Board to ask mosques to spread messages against such marriages,” the officer said. “Now we are planning to spread messages to prevent such marriages through mosques to create awareness among the community…it will start very soon,” he said. They are also making people aware of various government schemes for girls’ education, Mr Rahim told PTI. You can read more details here : https://www.nyoooz.com/news/hyderabad/901027/hyderabad-administration-to-campaign-against-contract-marriages/

    Mosques too have joined to create awareness http://www.siasat.com/news/hyderabad-mosques-join-campaign-spread-awareness-contract-marriages-1225950/

    Moderators: Please do not edit my post. I am providing information and hope that this is not a lost cause but something where a better outcome is possible.Recommend

  • gp65

    There are no Barahama and there are no Dillats in India. You are clearly commenting on a subject which you know very little about.Recommend

  • gp65

    First, throughout our subcontinent, girls whether Hindus or Muslims are pressured to marry men against their wishes by emotional manipulation by their own family. So while conceptually these are rapes, technically in countries like India and Pakistan, where there is no concept of marital rape, it is difficult to prove rape. But it is still fraud and they are prosecuted for that.
    Having said that, these ‘marriages’ are clearly criminal rackets and just recently a racket has been bust. Moreover the Mr. Rahim who is child protective officer in Hyderabad is trying to create awareness through Waqf boards and mosques.Recommend

  • gp65

    Varun,

    I am from India. Sadly this appears to be not that uncommon in Hyderabad. But the good news is that bureaucracy(child protection services and police) and civil society (mosques) are working hand in hand to stamp out this evil. You may like to check these links : http://www.siasat.com/news/hyderabad-mosques-join-campaign-spread-awareness-contract-marriages-1225950/

    http://www.india.com/news/india/contract-marriage-racked-busted-in-hyderabad-8-sheikhs-3-qazis-arrested-2485349/Recommend

  • Salim Alvi

    Muta is not Indian marriage. India’s marriages are Vivah and Lagn, much more divine and spiritual compared to Muta, Nikah and Shadi. India treats relationships as more than mere pleasure.Recommend

  • Salim Alvi

    Devdasi families are Mangeshkar, Abhishekhis, SubbaLakshmi and many others. Their contributions to India, its music, dance, aesthetics, architecture and even civil engg is immense. Two among above are Bharat Ratna. Repeat with me: India is progressing, egalitarian , democratic, diversity celebrating, full of life because it is Hindu. If it loses its Hindutwa then you will get barbaric ISIS ( Indian Subcontinental Islamic State) of AfPak.Recommend

  • Yogi Berra

    What is Dillats? Never heard of that. I don’t get who you are talking about. Recommend

  • Sane

    I am talking to those who are expert to portray themselves naive. Wonderful. Typical Indian attitude.Recommend

  • Yogi Berra

    So you cannot defend so you attack all Indians? Why don’t you learn the correct facts and then come prepared. You just do not want to do the hard work. And Keep saying Dillats. Which no one understands.Recommend

  • Parvez

    That was interesting……..thank you.
    What is seen in our countries is that laws do exist….its just the will to implement them that is either lacking of gets torpedoed due to political considerations.Recommend

  • drvajra

    Hindu India is among the most dangerous countries for women to live, according to UN report. Atrocities against women are institutionalized by Hinduism, from widow burning, dowry burning, female infanticide, to temple prostitution, rampant rape of toddlers to grandmothers, by ordinary Hindus to swamies,police and holy men … Not a few hundred or a thousand, but millions of Hindu females perish each year.

    There is rampant poverty among the minorities because the HIndu extremists have denied them opportunities. So, abuse is taking place among the impoverished.Recommend

  • BunnyOlesen

    Since when did islamic pakistan allow anything resembling ‘free speech’?Recommend

  • BunnyOlesen

    YEAH, and all men have to do is pay a girls father for a ‘temporary marriage’ Recommend

  • BunnyOlesen

    I think you mean ‘most oppressed in the entire world’.Recommend

  • BunnyOlesen

    I understand they PAY for ‘temporary’ marriages, doesn’t matter of the ‘girl’ agrees or not. Her father takes the money and makes the contract – that’s the same as pimping, prostitution, and rape. Don’t open your mouth until your own house is cleanRecommend

  • BunnyOlesen

    ACCORDING TO THE UN ‘AFGHANISTAN’ is the WORST country in the world to be a woman OR a child. Stop your lying. You are insane if you are trying to make people believe that millions of hindu women die each year because of they are being murdered or something. If millions of people in India die every year it’s because their population is 1.5 BILLION, literally 17% of the entire population of the world. IF you want to talk about the murder of women and the rape of INFANTS to old woman, look at Pakistan and Afghanistan. The UN estimates 65% of ALL children in Afghanistan have been sexually assaulted, not just girls – the BOYS TOO. It is clear to me living in Sweden that in major cities 100% of reported rapes are non western immigrants (and they are NOT hindu) and in ALL cities, in every case – 100% of gang rapes are perpetrated by muslim immigrants or their children.Recommend

  • BunnyOlesen

    South Africa is the rape capital of the entire universe, INDIA IS #94 – right? NINETY-FOURTH – not even close to #1 – SWEDEN is MUCH CLOSER between the second and sixth highest rate of rape in the world.Recommend

  • BunnyOlesen

    HAAA! OMG – Contract marriages are like absolutely embraced by islamic law. The leading marriage cleric of Saudi Arabia said a marriage contract can be made regardless of the girl’s age, with a 1 year old girl! The contact is made between the ‘husband’ or his family, and the girls father (who basically sells her to the highest bidder). Strange that the Grand Mufti of Saudi said it was not only allowable to marry an 8 or 10 year old girl, it’s an INSULT to the child if you DON’T. He claims it’s the same as saying they’re not ‘good enough’ to marry, or aren’t ‘well trained’ enough to be a ‘good wife’ – and besides (he said) our mothers and grandmothers were married at 10 or 12 and were having children when they were 12 years old, and everything was fine. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/87db84b3a49c577b4267254d8d316ec9a70ec89048cd66bc157e067cccd05039.pngRecommend

  • Sane
  • Fahim

    I am against temporary marriages, against will and taking money. You don;t understand what I mean. Please write when you understand what other guy is saying.Recommend