Stealing brides and selling daughters in Northern India

They are called “paros”, which means stolen brides. They’re 16 or even 10 years old and come from the poorest families of their country, India, often from the northern states of Punjab, Jharkhand and Haryana. In these parts of India, a girl could be kidnapped by men of bordering villages and then sold to an older man who needs a wife. Some of them are not sold to a man, but are forced to join the wide market of illegal bride trafficking.

Sometime it is not even necessary to resort to kidnapping, as the poorest girls are often sold to other men by their own parents. In India, the cost of a daughter’s marriage relies on her family, who should pay for a dowry, so the poorest families who cannot afford the cost of the marriage often decide to sell their daughters.

They are “sell like goats”, as an Indian woman declares, and some women have reported that once they’re married they are treated like slaves, forced to work in the fields, abused by their husbands or sometimes treated like sex slaves. Sometimes, if their husband died they are forced to leave the house.

The price of a bride could be around 4000 and levitate to 30,000 Indian rupees, the equivalent of 660USD, which is a really high amount of money. So why is this commerce so booming? Why is bride buying so common in these poor states?

Bride-buying is a common tradition which has been widely practiced since ancient times across some parts of norther India, not only in the countryside but also in the cities. Some says it has been introduced to India by the Rajput tribe, as this population used to decorate women with ornaments and sell them to the market.

By the way, leaving out the tradition of combined marriage and bride buying, -traditions which are commonly practiced in lots of cultures and have their social and economic roots-, the principal reason why men are now buying a bride is that the gender ratio in India is one of the worst in the world. It is counted that there are only 840 women for every 1000 men in Haryana.

This disproportion is principally due to the common practice of aborting female foetus or killing female new-borns: as we have said before, most of the Indian families cannot afford the cost of a marriage or of a dowry, and for decades poorest families have chosen to kill or abort female foetus, preferring to raise only the male ones. Therefore, the gender imbalance has been growing during these years and nowadays most of the men must buy a bride if they want to get married, fostering the bride trafficking.

Nowadays the practice of bride-purchasing is declared to be confined to the poor sections of Indian society, but forced marriage and child marriage are far away from being eradicated from India.

By Chiara Campanelli