Dowry system Essay

This research paper focuses on the dowry system of pakistan . It discusses how dowry is a common problem not only in pakistan but also in other South Asian countires . The main objectives of this paper were to find why people give dowry even though most of the people are against this evil system and how the concept of dowry has changed over the years . It highlights on the issues such as domestic violence and bride burning which are the common consequences of not paying dowry in pakistan and in also other South Asian countries such as India and Bangladesh . A few suggestions have been discussed in the end about how to put an end to this evil system of dowry . Research was carried out by reviewing various research papers which were previously written regarding the dowry system and various sources from the internet were used to provide a comprehensive discussion regarding the isssue of dowry .


A dowry can be defined as everything a girl brings with her in a marriage : jewelry , money , property or consumer goods. The root of dowry comes from several years ago , when the initial reason of giving a dowry was to help the newly married couple to start a new life (Dowry -Wikipedia , n.d.) It was more like a gift from parents to their daughters since the daughters did not have a share in the inheritance . But gradually , the concept of dowry changed and instead of ‘gifts’ for the bride , it became ‘demands’ of the groom and the in laws . The practice of dowry , which was once a voluntary act has now become a compulsory one (Chaudary , n.d. ) Dowry system is extremely common in most of the South Asian countries including Pakistan , India, Nepal , Bangladesh , Afghanistan and Vietnam . There are alternate ways in which dowry can be paid and it differs from society to society . It may include cash , money , jewelry , furniture , household appliances , property or anything which can help to set up the lives of the newly weds ( Dowry – n.d. ). However in Pakistan , the greed of groom’s family does not end with these expensive gifts .

An immense pressure is also applied on the bride’s parents to spend lavishly on the wedding through designer clothes , expensive jewelry and grand decorations ( Gulzar et al, 2012). There is also a custom in some Pakistani families where the bride’s parents are supposed to gift a house to the new couple , which is a huge burden on parents as there is only a minorty who can afford to give houses as dowry . Majority of the population struggles to own a house of their own hence its next to mpossible to gift their daughters a house , adding more burden on parents if they have more than one daughter .And the sad part about all this is that all classes are part of this evil system including the educated upper class. However the class which suffers the most is the middle class.

As soon as a girl is born , her parents start to worry about saving for her dowry . They start with holding back economic resources so that by the time the daughter reaches the age of marriage , they are able to provide a respectable amount of dowry for her . ‘ An average expenditure on dowry in a middle class family is above 0.3 to 0.4 million rupees’ (Perveen et al , 2012 ) Research shows that parents who are too poor or who fear the burden of dowry may often abort their child if they find out the sex of the child . Hence one reason for dowry being a social problem in south asian countries is that it leads to female foeticide , another very important social issue ( Ghansham , 2002) . There is great pressure on parents to work hard and they are often forced to beg , take loans or keep their houses on mortage in order to collect money for their daughter’s dowry ( Shaz , n.d.) Girls are deprived of higher education since parents want to save their educaton money for dowry . It is also a widely accepted belief that more educated a girl is , the more dowry has to be paid since its hard to find a groom who is compatible to the highly educated girl. Research shows that there is a co-relation between dowry and education level of the groom . Boys who are engineers and doctors tend to receive a higher dowry.

This is usually found in Pakistan and Bangladesh. So if the girl is educated , she will also have to find a boy who is highly educated which automatically means she will have to pay a higher dowry. (Anderson, 2007) That’s why often parents don’t encourage their girls to take up highly professional occupations such as doctors because then they will have to find a groom who is also extremely educated. ‘ Dowry is an act of discrimination against unmarried girls whose values are defined on the the prices of their respective dowries’ ( Gulzar et al , 2012) Thus since birth , girls are manipulated to believe that no matter how educated or how good their values are , eventually a girl whose parents are capable of paying a high amount of dowry is more likely to get married to a respectable boy. To attract a better partner for their daughters , parents often disclose to their close family members and neighbors the amount of dowry they are willing to pay so that they can attract good marriage proposals. This shows that the physical attractivness of the girl or her values are not the only factors which attract suitable grooms for her : the amount of dowry her parents are willing to give is also one of the major reasons for a girl to get marriage proposals ( Suran et al , 2004) . To escape away from the burden of dowry , an extremely foolish practice in Pakistan is ‘marriage to Quran’ where girls , like nuns , devote their lives to the religion . Parents force their daughters to get married to the Quran so that they then do not have to pay dowry ( Niaz , 2004 ). Girls have no say in how to live their lives and due to the fear of dowry , parents decide to completely destroy their lives. This practice is not only unfair for the girls but also a serious disrespect for the religion since in no way such a concept is accepted in Islam . Another problem which arises due to dowry is that it’s a symbol of class inequality in society . This tradition of giving expensive gifts as dowry was set by the upper class , which unfortunately the middle and lower class have to follow . For the upper class, it is not such a big issue but for the lower and middle class it’s a seriously stressful situation . As discussed previously , parents of daughters who belong to middle class family have to go through a lot of economic stress just to collect a respectible amount of dowry . This is also because there is often inter marriages between upper class and middle class due to children receiving the same level of education and going to same colleges and universities , where usually middle class and upper class children study under one roof and mingle with each other. Middle class families usually demand a high amount of dowry since they see it as a source for them to achieve upward social mobility . Since most of the boys from middle class families are educated, a little financial help from the in laws helps them to start a successful life which they weren’t able to do on their own.

This even occurs in lower class, but since most of them belong to a similar economic background and often get married within families , the dowry expectations aren’t so high as they are in the middle class families. In upper class , dowry is often more of a display of weath the bride’s family has and to show off rather than a need. Even though parents of daughters who belong to upper class can easily give high amount of dowry , it is still not fair to make it compulsion on them . But what worries the society more are the consequences a girl faces after marriage if her parents were not able to pay dowry . One extremely important issue , which is sadly not the highlight of the social problems of the society is the increasing rate of domestic violence , main cause of which is unsatisfied husbands and in laws in terms of the dowry they received from the girl’s parents. According to research , dowry violence is not yet a serious issue in the society due to it’s lack of awareness amongst the international domain. Also , more attention is paid to other forms of violence in society such as rape and child labour which are common throughout the world and not just in South Asian countires ( Perveen et al , 2012 ). Thousands of brides are burnt , killed and tortured by husbands and in laws yet, no one is taking any serious action against it ( Menski, 1998 as cited in Parveen et al , 2012 ). Taking a look at all the South Asian countries that practice dowry , it was found that there are different methods used to torture girls for not paying dowry , commonly known as ‘ dowry killings’ . This is when the husband simply murders the girl with the help of his family so that he could remarry and does not have to return the bride the dowry he got previosuly , which would be required in the case of divorce. In India , dowry killings are usually carried out by burning the bride, a practice derived from an old indian practice , sutee , when the bride was burned to death after the death of her husband. Similarly , brides are also burned in Pakistan under the title of ‘stove deaths’ where the burning is portrayed as an accident . In Bangladesh , dowry killing are usually carried out by stabbing the bride or by poisoning her. (Dowry , n.d. ) In Pakistan , the range of domestic violence ranges from 70% to 90% (Perveen et al, 2012)Despite of increasing rate of domestic violence , the main reason of which is usually dowry , it is still not perceived as a serious social problem. ‘

According to Amnesty International Report in 1999, though 1600 ‘bride burning’ cases were reported , only sixty were prosecuted and just two resulted in convicton ‘ ( Perveen et al , 2012). Dowry deaths are just not common in Pakistan but also in other South Asian countires. For example , in India , there are approximately 6000 dowry deaths every year according to the National Crime Bureau.(Chowdhury, n.d.) . Apart from dowry killings, there are also several ways through which girls are tortured if the in laws are unhappy with the dowry they received. These include depriving them of food , not allowing them to visit their parents , limiting their social mobility , passing sarcastic remarks , beatings and continuous threat of divorce. These actions do not just effect the girls physically but also psychologically . According to Niaz (2004) who wote from the psychological aspect about the effects of dowry , girls lose their self esteem and are often driven to an extent where they attempt suicide. Most of the suicidal patients in a study she cited were who suffered conflict with husband and in laws. Another 5 year (1992-1996) survey at Psychiatary Department at Aga Khan Hospital Karachi found that out of all the patients going through counselling , majority were married women suffering with issues with in laws an family (Niaz , 2004 ). A study in Thatta District in Sindh Pakistan, stated few of the cases of suicide which were the results of mentally frustrated women . Often such cases were found to be reported. ‘ Revti (20 years) of a village attempted suicide due to refuse of her marriage Kanji , since her parents were not able to pay dowry.’

Or “Marriam Mallah (26), hanged herself to death in her house. A poor girl was driven to the extreme step after persistent harassment by her husband. ‘ ( Shaz, n.d.) So why does dowry exsist in society when it’s disadvantages are so obvious? There is a common belief that dowry is an avantage for the brides known as the “Bequest Theory of Dowry.’ A research was carried out in Bangladesh to test the bequest theory of dowry , due to which many people don’t take a step to put an end to this unfair and cruel system . In this study , 1279 married females were studied. Results show that out of these females , 20 % received beating from their husbands even though 3/4 of them paid a dowry . Hence the ‘bequest theory of dowry’ failed to be proved right and dowry was not able to improve the lives of married girls. It is simply a source of violence and discrimination against women (Suran et al , 2004). WHAT CAN BE DONE TO END DOWRY SYSTEM IN PAKISTAN?

Previously , the government of Pakistan did take a few steps to control the dowry system . For example, Restriction Act of 1976 stated that dowry amount should not exceed Rs 5000. However , just like the ban on lavish wedding food , this was even unsuccessful ( Perveen , 2006 ). Besides that , a non-governmental organization- Society for the Advancement of Community, Health, Education and Training (SACHET) also started a project under the name of FAD in 2001. This NGO , along with the help of media and interested groups tried to promote the issue of dowry. Television programs , radio , theatre and news papers were used as a source to bring society’s focus on the problems that are related to dowry such as ‘accidental stove deaths.’ (Perveen , 2006 ) This was successful to some extents such as increased awareness about the issue of dowry , especially amongst the youth. The country gender assessment report 2005 launched by World Bank in 2006 acknowledges the impact of FAD in Pakistani society (Perveen , 2006).

However , all these measures were not able to completely finish the system of dowry in Pakistan and some drastic measures need to be taken to do so . According to Shaikh (n.d.) , dowry should just not exsist in the society . Hence , according to her , this can only be done if women are provided with proper education . Most of the girls don’t speak up against the humiliation and pain they face against as a consequence of dowry is because they are not taught to be strong and have their own identity. They have to be trained to be powerful so they can fight for their rights . Often , girls don’t raise a voice against domestic violence because they fear the ‘stigma’ attached to divorce and that no one will support them if their husbands leave them . So if overall girls are given education and are taught to be independant , they will not fear raising a voice against violence they experience after marriage due to the unsufficient payment of dowry . Parents should simply refuse to give dowry and should get their daughters married in a family which demands dowry. A family who can demand dowry probably has quite a low mentality and even stoop to low actions if they don’t receive what they demanded for . An awareness about the consequences of dowry should also be created amongst parents so that they know what they are going into before they easily accept to pay dowry because majority of the girls , even after paying dowry were suffering fro domestic violence. So if the parents think that by giving dowry their dowry will be treated well after marriage , this really isnt the case most of time .


So dowry system is a system which has existed for an extremely long time in the society and to abolish it won’t be an easy process. Slowly and gradually , one step at a time we can work towards putting an end to this cruel system . On individual level , we can each play our part by promising never to take or give dowry and make sure all our close family members also follow our footsteps. By doing so , we are each going to take one step towards ending the dowry system . Other than that , parents should let their daughters know that they are going to support them in every situation so that no matter what happens , girls should not fear being left alone if their husbands and in laws mistreat them . If this attitude continues , hopefully dowry system will come to an end one day.


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