By Kathy Gannon
− MIRPUR KHAS, Pakistan
he mother rummages
through a large metal
trunk, searching for a
picture of her young
daughter taken away in
the night to be the bride of a man
who says the family owed him
Beneath the blankets, clothes
and silver ornaments that she
wears with her sari, Ameri Kashi
Kohli finds two photos, carefully
wrapped in plastic, of her smiling
Ameri tries to remember her
daughter Jeevti's age; few of this
country's desperately poor have
birth certificates. With a grin at a
sudden recollection she says, "I
remember her sister, my
youngest, was born when there
was a big earthquake in
That was 2005. Jeevti was 3
years old at the time, Ameri says.
That means the girl was just 14
when she disappeared into the
hands of the land manager her
parents were beholden to.
Her mother is sure that Jeevti
paid the price for a never-ending
Ameri says she and her husband borrowed roughly $500
when they first began to work on
the land, but she throws up her
hands and says the debt was
repaid. "We started with a loan,
and every time they said they
were taking money for our loan,
but no one gave us anything to
show we paid." Instead, the debt
It's a familiar story here in
southern Pakistan: Small loans
balloon into impossible debts,
bills multiply, payments are
In this world, women like
Ameri and her young daughter
are treated as property: taken as
payment for a debt, to settle disputes, or as revenge if a
landowner wants to punish his
worker. Sometimes parents, burdened by an unforgiving debt,
even offer their daughters as payment.
The women are like trophies
to the men. They choose the
prettiest and the young and pliable. Sometimes they take them
as second wives to look after
their homes. Sometimes they use
them as prostitutes to earn
money. Sometimes they take
them simply because they can.
Ameri says she has heard stories of other workers whose
daughters disappeared, in a
country that sees an estimated
1,000 girls like them taken each
year. Now, even though she and
her family live elsewhere after
being tossed out of their home,
she's afraid that her 11-year-old
could be taken too.
And like everything else in her
life, as a Hindu in a Muslim coun-
try, as a woman who is among
the poorest of the poor, she
knows she will be powerless to
stop it from happening.
"I went to the police and to the
court. But no one is listening to
us," Ameri says. She says the
land manager made her daughter
convert to Islam and took the girl
as his second wife. "They told us,
'Your daughter has committed to
Islam and you can't get her
Police in a machine-gun-mounted jeep take Kohli, the
activist, and a foreign reporter to
visit the girl. Her mother doesn't
come, too afraid, she says, to
confront the police in person
Brohi, a sullen-looking man
with a thin mustache, greets the
police with an embrace. He angri-
ly denies he took Jeevti as pay-
ment for the family's debt,
despite his earlier boast to the
activist that he had done just
that. Instead, he insists he had an
affair with the girl and married
her. Kohli and her mother say
there was no opportunity for that
because Jeevti was always with
her, even working in the fields.
Inside, Jeevti sits on a double
mattress on the floor, her head
wrapped in a black shawl. Brohi
leaves his young wife alone but
hangs outside the door, scowling
Jeevti wears heavy eyeshadow
and exaggerated bright red lipstick, like a child who has put on
her mother's makeup - or one
who is attempting to look older.
It is the middle of the afternoon,
yet she looks like she has just
stepped out of a wedding,
dressed in a glittery outfit. She
looks out of place in the stark
room, in a dusty compound surrounded by mud walls; none of
the other women here are
dressed or made up like her.
Although she doesn't seem
afraid, her eyes dart to the door
where her husband hovers.
When she speaks, her words
seem rehearsed and odd for a 14-
"I married him because I wanted to," she says. "I myself asked
him that as we are lovers, we
should get married. So he said,
'Let's get married,' and I said
She says she left her home
freely and denies that she hasn't
seen her mother since leaving.
But she can't say when she saw
her mother last - or even where
she lives now. She says she
would be happy to see her moth-
er but is quiet when asked why
her court affidavit says she
refused to talk to her mother
Islam. She says she doesn't know
what is in the court documents,
although each one the police
showed said Jeevti had spoken
the words herself.
When asked about her name,
she falters for a moment. She
says that her Hindu name was
Jeevti, smiling slightly, as if
remembering her past. But now,
she says, she is Fatima.
Finally, it is time to leave.
Police, who have remained outside, sipping tea with Brohi's
father and other men, escort the
visitors back to the nearby village.
The visitors return the next
day — without police escort.
Inside the compound where
Jeevti was the day before, there
are only women, and no one
knows Fatima. They are friendly,
but look confused when the girl
is mentioned. The door to the
room where she sat the day
before is padlocked. It is as if the
compound was but a stage set for
the previous visit.
Within seconds, the police call
a Pakistani colleague's cellphone:
"Why did you go there? What do
you want? Why did you not stop
first at the police?"
Kohli says she will keep fighting for the girl in court but has
little hope of getting her back.
At her new home, her mother
looks at the trunk full of memories of Jeevti.
"I still have the clothes she
wore, her dresses," she says. "I
am her mother. She is my child.
How can I forget her?"
Above, In this photo taken on, Dec. 1, 2016. Hamid Brohi poses for a picture
with his wife Jeevti at their home in Pyaro Lundh, Pakistan.
Left, Ameri Kashi Kolhi, right, in tears remembering her daughter while
holding her pictures of Jeevti, with her younger daughter Saveeta in
Mirpur Khas, Pakistan.
TPakistani Girl Kidnapped as
AP Photo/B.K. Bangash