Islamabad — “Watta satta” marriage, a long-practiced system of bartering brides among families in rural Pakistan and parts of South Asia, helps reduce domestic abuse and dowry and is generally in women’s interest, a World Bank study has said.
It is clearly in the interest of women regardless of whether the institution is motivated by parents’ altruism towards their daughters or by their desire to maintain family honour, a policy research paper posted on the World Bank (WB) website says.
The paper, Bride Exchange and Women’s Welfare in Rural Pakistan, conducted by the World Bank and authored by Hanan G Jacoby and Ghazala Mansuri, says a bride exchange accompanied by mutual retaliatory threats could be a mechanism to coordinate the actions of two sets of in-laws, each of whom wish to restrain their sons-in-law, but only have the ability to restrain their sons.
Some women’s groups in Pakistan have decried the “watta satta” system arguing that a girl is forced into the barter against her wishes only to keep the property within the family.
According to the paper, however, the likelihood of marital discord is lower in “watta satta” arrangements as compared to conventional marriages.
“This result emerges most strongly in the case of estrangement, the clearest and most publicly observable expression of marital discord.”
The paper claims that there is no difference in the rate of divorce or separation (around 1.5 percent) between women in “watta satta” marriages and those in conventional marriages.
It stresses that barter/exchange marriage might serve as a mechanism to curtail the financial burden of dowry. It adds that if dowry is principally a price for husbands, the advantage of marrying a daughter into her sister-in-law’s family is clear: it establishes a double-coincidence of wants, obviating the need to exchange money or wealth at the time of the joint marriage.
“In rural Pakistan dowry values are relatively modest and dowry assets are generally controlled by the woman herself rather than delivered directly to her in-laws.”
The paper says that a vast majority of “watta satta” marriages (94 percent) involves at least one brother-sister pair, and most (72 percent) involve a brother-sister pair on both sides.
“The second most popular “watta satta” arrangement (16 percent) is when at least one of the households (but rarely both) contributes an uncle-niece pair.” The study adds that various other combinations occur as well, though none in significant numbers.