updated 2/21/2005 3:06:02 PM ET 2005-02-21T20:06:02

A tribal council in Pakistan has ordered the betrothal of a 2-year-old girl to a man 40 years older to punish her uncle for an alleged affair with the man’s wife, police said Monday.

The council decreed the girl must marry 42-year-old Mohammed Altaf, her uncle’s cousin, when she turns 18, police said.

Altaf, a farmer, divorced his 32-year-old wife over her alleged love affair with his 20-year-old cousin, Mohammed Akmal. Akmal, a bachelor and also a farmer, has no children.

Altaf asked tribal elders in the village of Kacha Chohan, about 215 miles west of the city of Multan in Punjab province, to convene a panchayat, or council, on Feb. 15 to arbitrate and propose a punishment. As punishment, the elders ordered the girl’s betrothal and ruled Akmal should also pay a $3,800 fine to the husband.

Woman gang-raped for brother's wrongdoing
Village councils in conservative rural regions of Pakistan traditionally rule on local disputes including those involving a family’s “honor” purportedly being besmirched by allegations of improper sexual behavior. The councils can dictate harsh — and sometimes illegal — punishments.

In 2002, another village council near Multan ordered a woman gang-raped as punishment for her brother’s sexual relations with another woman. A court later convicted six men who perpetrated the rape and sentenced them to death. They are appealing the sentences.

Police chief Maqsoodul Hassan said an investigation has been started into the case involving the 2-year-old girl, but they have made no arrests as no one had filed a complaint.

None of the parties to the dispute could be reached for comment Monday.

Village council's decision condemned
Rashid Rahman, a lawyer and Multan-based coordinator with the independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, condemned the village council’s decision.

“These types of panchayats are illegal and nobody has the right to take a decision about a child’s life,” he said. “This country has its legal system and all decisions should be taken under it.”

He said that the betrothal of a minor did not itself break the law, but forcing a woman to marry against her will carried a maximum 14-year jail sentence. Underage marriage is also illegal but is only punishable by a fine.

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