Journalist and storyteller Shahar Baloch has recently reported for BBC about the aftermath of the devastating floods in Balochistan last year. The report reveals that families from lower income backgrounds, impacted by the aftereffects of the floods, are being compelled to sell their daughters due to mounting debts. The dire situation was uncovered in the Chowki Jamali area, one of the regions hit hardest by the 2022 floods.
Chowki Jamali, a remote area on the border of Sindh and Balochistan, is home to approximately 50,000 people, primarily farmers and daily wage laborers. The 2023 floods displaced over 3.2 million families in 2022, with Sindh and Balochistan experiencing the worst of the brunt.
As families struggled to recover, the economic downturn pushed many to sell their young daughters to older men, aged between 40 and 60 years, in exchange for money to pay off debts or cover medical expenses. Daily wage laborers, earning as little as 500 rupees a day, say that they are left with no other option.
Residents of the area say that early marriages have been conducted here in the past as well.
The Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA) conducted a survey of 14 districts of Balochistan in August 2022. According to the survey, there has been a 13 per cent increase in the number of cases of selling female children.
Most girls are sold for amounts ranging from three to five lakh rupees, providing relief for financially strained families, who often rely on the transaction to settle debts, access medical treatment, or invest in their son’s education.
The situation is exacerbated by the fact that in some cases, girls are sold multiple times if they do not “adjust” to their new circumstances. Some girls even run away upon learning of their impending sale, leaving their younger sisters to be married off in their place.
The term “climate brides” is used to describe these girls, and this alarming practice is not unique to Balochistan; it also occurs in countries like Africa and India where poverty and climate change intersect.
Climate change and floods have made agriculture increasingly unprofitable in Balochistan, driving families to desperate measures. With little income and food scarcity, many in Chowki Jamali resort to selling their daughters to survive.
Even though education has made a difference, parents continue to sell their daughters due to extreme poverty.
Health workers report severe health consequences for young girls married off early, including complications during pregnancy and the development of conditions like fistulas. Despite being aware of this issue, authorities have struggled to curb these marriages.
Lady health worker Shehzadi told the BBC that in some cases, girls cry in pain, and some die here. “We still make noise, we can say something, but the mothers of these girls cannot say anything in this matter because it is the men of the house who decide to sell the girls.”
Madad Community, an organization working on climate change in Balochistan, recently said that as a result of climate change and floods, it has become very difficult to earn from the agriculture sector.
Organizer Maryam Jamali said that most people were forced to migrate, including the middle class of Balochistan. Poor farmers still have nowhere to go. As a result of extreme heat, more droughts and floods have been predicted.
Fauzia Shaheen, Chairperson of the Government Commission for Women, revealed that Balochistan lacks effective laws to prevent child marriages, and efforts to pass the Child Marriage Restraint Bill have faced obstacles.
In Balochistan, it is clear that the true cost of flood damage is being borne by the region’s vulnerable young girls, who are forced into early marriages due to dire economic circumstances.