Exchange marriages, which are sometimes referred to as reciprocal or cross-cousin marriages, (watta satta in the local language) are a cultural tradition that exists in many different communities all over the world.
This custom entails the trading of spouses between two families or kin groupings. In exchange weddings, a male family member from one marries a female family member from the other, while his sister or female cousin marries a male family member from the other.
To develop social and family links between families or clans, exchange marriages are frequently used. They help to establish or strengthen ties between groups, keep things in check, and encourage collaboration.
This practice is prevalent in a variety of cultural settings, including some areas of Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, and Southeast Asia. These practices are very common, especially in countries like Pakistan. These are usually considered beneficial to strengthen the family bond. It is considered as a way of keeping the marital bond alive between partners.
Exchange marriages come in a variety of forms. The “sister exchange” marriage, in which a man weds his wife’s sister and his sister weds his wife’s brother, is one popular type. Another version is a “cross-cousin marriage,” in which a man weds the daughter of his mother’s brother and his sister weds the son of his father’s sister.
Despite its cultural importance and potential for some societal benefits, exchange marriages can also have unfavourable consequences, particularly in specific situations. It creates a kind of compromise in a relationship where people are bound in a relationship where they are forced just to keep the married life of another couple alive, where they sacrifice their happiness for their siblings. In many cases exchange marriages are usually forced whereby they are decided by the elders members of the family especially women who are not asked for the marriage.
Similarly in many cases, if the male member wants to get married but his sister doesn’t want to get married but still she is forced into the marriage to make his brother’s marriage possible. Likewise, there are many cases whereby most of the time one or more is forced most of the time.
Also, there are many instances where these marriages are decided even before children are born or at a time when the children are too young to make any decision.
There are also instances where in exchange for marriage sometimes children are forced to get married. These are all the violations of human rights which clearly state the right of free marriages with full consent between both partners. The following are some possible negative impacts of exchange marriages:
Limited choice and Autonomy in selecting partners
Exchange weddings sometimes restrict the ability of the individual to select their life partner in the case of children’s marriage in exchange marriages are the marriages that are decided when the children who are supposed to get married are not born or if born are too young to give their consent etc. Due to this lack of choice, people may be pressured into marriages they may not want, which can cause sadness, discontentment, and strained relationships, which in turn can lead to different mental issues like depression etc.
Risk of Genetic diseases
In exchange for weddings, cross-cousins and other close relatives are frequently married. This practice can raise a child’s chance of inheriting genetic diseases and other health issues. A community’s genetic diversity may be diminished and the frequency of inherited genetic illnesses may increase when closely related people raise children together over the years.
Social and emotional pressures:
Exchange marriages can have a strong cultural and societal impact. Due to societal duties, community pressure, or familial expectations, people may feel under pressure to follow certain customs and norms set by society and one’s family and culture. Due to this pressure, some people are forced into marriages that they are not emotionally prepared for or truly desire by heart, which can cause difficult relationships, emotional issues, and mental health problems such as depression, anxiety etc.
Reinforce gender inequalities:
Exchange marriages can reinforce or strengthen gender disparities and maintain patriarchal traditions in some cultures where the wedding decisions are still taken by elders and especially male members of the family. The advantages to the families or communities may take precedence over the preferences or agreements of the people engaged in these marriages. In such type of marriage, women usually have little autonomy given.
Conflict and tensions between families:
Exchange marriages usually happen with the intent to build or strengthen bonds between groupings or families. However, if there are disagreements, misinterpretations, or imbalances in the exchange process, tensions and conflicts may develop. Family ties may be strained by these conflicts, which can result in enduring hostility and societal rifts. Like if some interpersonal issue arises between one couple, the other couple faces the negative consequences of it which can instead of strengthening the ties between families weakens them.
Exchange marriages in Pakistan have raised questions regarding the legal ramifications because of the possibility of exploitation, abuse, and human rights violations. Key legal considerations for exchange marriages in Pakistan include the following:
Forced and child weddings:
Forced or child marriages are sometimes a component of exchange marriages. The law in Pakistan forbids forced marriages in which either party does not offer free and informed consent. In a similar vein, the Child Marriage Restraint Act, of 1929 forbids weddings if one or both parties are minors in Pakistan. Despite these rules, some exchange marriages still include coerced and underage marriages especially in cases involving disputes between families and in order to settle such disputes between clan’s children are usually used.
Issues relating to dowry:
Exchange marriages are frequently connected to the dowry custom, in which the bride’s family is required to give the groom’s family large gifts, money, or property. Unfortunately, violence, harassment, and disagreements about dowry are frequently seen in exchange marriage situations.
For example, if one family gives a certain amount in dowry the other family is required and is forced to do the same even if they can’t afford it. And if one family doesn’t have that much the marital life of that couple suffers whereby the girl has to listen to the taunts of her family throughout her life which creates tensions and conflicts.
Domestic violence and abuse:
Because of the power dynamics and lack of freedom of choice, exchange couples are more likely to experience domestic violence and abuse. In Pakistan, domestic abuse is a severe crime, and several laws have been passed to protect people especially women from it. But still, domestic abuse is quite common. In the case of exchange marriage, if a conflict arises in one family, the other family automatically suffers from it.
It is important to note that even while there are legislative procedures to address the drawbacks of exchange marriages, their implementation and enforcement might be difficult owing to cultural considerations, a lack of resources, and social conventions.
In the context of exchange marriages in Pakistan, more has to be done to reinforce legal safeguards, increase public awareness, and promote gender equality and individual rights. The government must raise awareness regarding the possible social, mental and physical health hazards of exchange marriages so that this culture can be stopped and a society be raised whereby everyone has an equal opportunity and right to get married and form a family with full and free consent. Then only we can raise an independent society.