Dowry in Pakistan: Reflections on bridging the gap between theory and practice

Dowry in Pakistan: Reflections on bridging the gap between theory and practice


Dowry is an act of discrimination of unmarried girls, whose marital life and values are defined by the prices of their respective dowries. Along with the other social tribulations, it is one of the most significant and prevailing problems of Pakistan. With majority of the population living below the poverty line and the destitute of basic living requirements, it adds onto their misery.

It is basically the cash, jewelery, furniture, property and other tangible items given by the bride’s family to the bridegroom and his parents during the event of marriage and this system is called Dowry System. It has been prevalent in India since centuries.

‘Tis the season of the dowry. Before the tents are set up, the invitations distributed, and the menus finalized, another sort of exchange takes place. Based sometimes on the wealth (real or perceived) in the coffers of the bride’s family, or in the greed (always real) of the groom’s family, a dowry is demanded. And just like the bazaars and markets of the country, a good bit of haggling takes place — the opening salvo is never the ultimate amount.

The wealth and property that parents intend to give her daughter as a part of the dowry so that she can be self sufficient at the new place is unfortunately, in most cases, all taken by the groom’s family. Besides, while earlier this was a voluntary decision of the bride’s parents it has become more of an obligation for them these days.

The system was put in place due to a reason in India and that was that until a few decades back the girl child did not have any right over the parental property and other fixed assets and was given liquid assets such as cash, jewelery and other goods to give her a fair share. However, it has turned into an evil social system over the years.

It is certainly a dreadful and unethical practice. Nowadays dowry has become a part of wedding ceremonies. If we say that this is common thing among the illiterate or uneducated people, we will be wrong because educated people are also involved in this evil. Dowry is a social evil which affected our society very badly. It is the cause of our social and economic deterioration.

Dowry system is one of the evil systems prevalent in the society. It is said to be as old as the human civilization and is rampant in many societies across the globe. Here are essays of varying lengths on the Dowry System to help you with the topic in your exam. The language used in these dowry system essays is very simple. You can select any essay on dowry system as per your need.

The assumptions in the negotiations have remained the same through the ages: the bride is a burden being passed off from one family to another, so a trawler of goods, none too big and none too small, must be handed over. In other cases, it is a game of numbers instead of goods, payments made into the account of the groom or the groom’s family. Such is the dowry game, the exchange of goods and money that, despite all of Pakistan’s advances, continue to remain a fixture in the arrangement of marriages. Although the Dowry and Bridal Gifts (Restriction) Act, 1976, has made the practice technically illegal, it is still prevalent everywhere in Pakistani society and is carried out with impunity.

The custom of dowry is the route of many evils. There is no religious concern with this practice, but majority of the people happily adopt it. The elite class to some extent is responsible for this tradition because, they give luxuries to their daughter that a poor man cannot afford. On the other hand, lower class of society has not enough to give dowry to their daughters. So, many of them take huge debts because of dowry. They spend the rest of their lives to pay their debts. Others do not hesitate to earn money by unfair means to meet the demand of dowry.

The practice of giving dowry is rampant in our society and has to an immense degree distorted the natural order of things; its unfettered and unregulated growth has led to bringing forth myriad of social ills and abetting of heinous crimes against women. If a woman is not able to accumulate enough dowry, she will not be able to get married which in turn can create various other social evils.

Dowry has been existent in our society for centuries. Not only it is practiced by the illiterate people, but the educated people of Pakistan are also involved in the act. In fact, the concept of dowry which has been adopted from our neighbouring country, India; has trickled from the upper-middle class to the lower class of Pakistan. The dowry system has exploited the women’s rights and due to it many women are unmarried and facing the social pressures.

The dowry system, that includes the bride’s family offering gifts in the form of cash and kind to the groom’s family, is largely condemned by the society however some people argue that it has its own advantages and that people are still following it only because it does hold importance for the brides and benefits them in certain ways.

People come up with various reasoning as to why it is necessary to give dowry. Some suggest that it is a gift that can help the married couple in their practical life. We all have been told that it is the duty of the man to look after the financial matters and earn the bread and butter for the family, isn’t it? Some say that it helps in establishing the importance of the woman in her in-laws and enhances her power to make decisions.

What is the assurance that in-laws would be generous enough to be sharing their power? Some argue that it acts as a safe guard from any marital problems. Can dowry really save you from the problems or does it create problems itself? The most common reasoning is that the fear of being shunned by the society gets them to practice it. Will the society help you in preparing the dowry or help your daughters in times of crisis?

The game is not over after the bride bids farewell. If what is paid does not sate the gluttonous appetites of the groom and his family, the bride can look forward to a lifetime of taunts and torments. In the worst cases, and there are many of these worst cases, women are beaten, tortured and even murdered, all because of dowry disputes.

Incidents of dowry abuse in Pakistan have been happening for a long time and are on the rise due to absence of effective legislation in this area. The family of the bride has to literally advertise and sell their daughter to the groom’s family like a branded product. Sadly, it has become an instrument by which women have been transformed into an article of trade with a certain brand value; the higher the brand value, the more the demand will be.

The newspapers are full of stories of torture and killing on account of an insufficient dowry. Quite often, the emphasis of those who highlight these ugly situations is on the violence it all culminates in. There are calls for protecting women against domestic violence. There are demands for — and some practical work has been done on this — ensuring proper treatment for victims of violence carried out because of the size of the dowry. There are not too many words spoken in anger against the scourge of dowry itself. It is certainly not like the past when the subject would be spoken about with so much passion and conviction.

Cultures, with the depraved practices of their dark underbellies, cannot change without a change in norms. In this case, the prevalent premise that masculinity and dowry can go together is the idea that must be disentangled. A good and honourable man, it must be understood, cannot and must not be involved in extorting money from the family of the woman whom he wishes to marry. A man must not demand the fridge and the freezer, the cash payment and the car payment, or consider entering into a lifelong bond along with evaluating how much money he can get for it. A good man, an honourable man, in this transformed culture, would not bow to money and goods when he decides to marry.

It is not only ideas of masculinity that require transformation. Beneath the gifts that must be distributed to the in-laws, and the goods and appliances set up in the future home of the bride, is the idea that a woman is a burden. This idea is built on two myths: first, the belief that women who stay at home do not contribute to the household in terms of actual value, hence requiring this one-time compensation; and second, the idea that women are never going to add to the total income of the household.

The first is not true, because it assumes that the absence of an immediate cash value to a woman’s work means that the work has no value. Cooking, childcare, home maintenance aren’t ‘free’ just because women are not being paid to do them. Second, as more and more Pakistani women enter the workforce in a literal sense, the premise that they never add to the total income of the household is untrue. The two myths must be dislodged from the country’s collective psyche. At the root of the idea of dowry is, of course, the belief that women are inferior freeloaders benefiting from male labour while never contributing anything themselves.

It is the educated middle class of the country that can make this happen, and the means are simple. Along with all the nosy questions that people ask each other when they attend the week-long celebrations attached to any wedding, they could ask whether dowry was exchanged. If so, then the very effective social shaming tactics of Pakistani culture should be deployed to shame the groom who asks for and even accepts goods and cash in the process of making a lifelong commitment supposed to signal love and partnership.

What none of them realize is that instead of finishing the problem they are increasing it by giving into the desires of the greedy people. This system has imbalanced the women’s right and has made them socially, physically and mentally weak. In order to fulfil the demands of dowry, parents have to risk their self-esteem by begging others for help and bear the weight of debts on their shoulders. Women have to face serious harm in face of domestic violence, acid abuse, mental torture and divorces.

Many cases of brides being tortured physically and emotionally for not bringing enough dowry have come up. In many cases, the bride turns to her family to meet the demands of her in-laws while others end up giving their lives to end the torture.

In order to exploit the bride and her family, threats of divorce are commonly used in Pakistan. These threats are taken very seriously as divorce in traditional and predominantly rural Pakistani society is deemed as a symbol of mortification. In addition to that, when a bride brings less than the anticipated amount, she has to live through persistent torture from her in-laws.

Incidents of degrading treatment and blackmailing of the bride are prevalent, which usually result in recognised psychiatric illnesses and ultimately suicides. In extreme cases wherein, the husband or in-laws are not content with the dowry, they may even go to the extent of killing the bride and the most savage form of such kind of dowry abuse is “bride burning”.

It is found that 95% of marriages in every region of Pakistan involve the transfer of dowry from the bride’s family to the groom’s. In Pakistan there are 2000 dowry-related deaths per year, and annual rates increasing 2.45 per 100,000 women from dowry related violence. Some anti-dowry laws have proven to be dysfunctional, for example, the anti dowry laws of 1996, 1997 and 1998 along with Family Court Act in 1964. Pakistan’s Dowry and Marriage Gifts (Restriction) Bill, 2008, restricts dowry to PKR 30,000, while the total value of bridal gifts is limited to PKR 50,000.

In plain words, dowry is defined as money, goods or estate that a woman brings to her husband or his family in marriage. The rationale behind dowry is to serve as a form of economic and social security for the wife against potential probability of maltreatment by her husband and his family.

However, it is widely misinterpreted and has been conveniently transformed into a tool of oppression, avarice and materialism in Pakistan. It has now become binding upon the bride’s family to give sizeable dowry and in case of failure to do so, marriage might not even take place. This is one of the reasons why the birth of a daughter in Pakistan is regarded as a burden. It is common to see many people jubilant over the birth of a son and disappointed over the birth of a daughter.

Many people considered dowry as a religious obligation due to lack of knowledge. There is no concept of demanding anything in Islam without payment.

Although in reality it is a gift of money or property made by the husband to the wife which becomes her absolute property, in our society the dowry system is not only mandated for girls but also for boys.

Many couples these days choose to live independently and it is said that dowry that mostly includes gifting cash, furniture, car and other such assets acts as a financial support for them and helps them to begin their new life on a good note.

As both the bride and groom have just begun their career and are not that sound financially, they cannot afford such huge expenses all at once. But is it a valid reason? If this is the case then both the families should invest in getting them settled rather than putting the entire burden on the bride’s family. Moreover, this should hold good if the families can afford to offer financial help to the newly wed without coming under debt or lowering their own standard of living.

A dowry sometimes serves to help a new husband discharge the responsibilities that go with marriage. This function assumes special importance in societies where marriages have regularly been made between very young people; the dowry enables the new couple to establish a household, which they otherwise would not have been able to do.

In some societies a dowry provides the wife with a means of support in case of her husband’s death. In this latter case the dowry may be seen as a substitute for her inheritance of all or part of her husband’s estate.

In many societies, dowries have served as a reciprocal gesture by the bride’s kin to the groom’s kin for the expenses incurred by the latter in payment of bridewealth. These exchanges are not purely economic but instead serve to ratify the marriage and consolidate friendship between the two families.

In medieval and Renaissance Europe, the dowry frequently served not only to enhance the desirability of a woman for marriage but also to build the power and wealth of great families and even to determine the frontiers and policies of states. The use of dowries more or less disappeared in Europe in the 19th and 20th centuries.

In some other places, however, dowries grew in popularity at the end of the 20th century, even when declared illegal or otherwise discouraged by governments. In South Asia, for instance, parents of the groom have sometimes demanded compensation for their son’s higher education and future earnings, which the bride would ostensibly share.

Today we fix dowry rates for boys of different categories doctors, engineers, lecturers, business men, etc. Merit of the girl is of no value. Parents find it difficult to select a boy, well-settled in life. On the other hand, the boy accepts that girl who belongs to a well-off family, highly educated in service and earns. He also wants a girl whose parents can give hefty dowry at the time of marriage.

Pakistan has a mass of social problems to tackle today yet the biggest that the country is facing is dowry. This is one of the reasons the birth of a daughter in Pakistan is regarded as a burden.

Given that the utmost secrecy is often maintained in the shifting of dower items to the home of the blessed ‘shurfas’ at the time of marriage it is difficult to see that there would be any volunteers filling in the new ‘jahez column in the nikahnama. There will have to be some law forcing them to do so, which brings us back to the sad discussion about how existing laws aimed at curbing the practice are routinely flouted. The media was only allowed to flash images of the most expensive and ostentatious wedding in Punjab recently since the organizers of the event were sure they would get away with it.

Many also argue that those girls who are not good looking can find grooms by meeting the latter’s financial demands. It is unfortunate that girls are seen as a burden and marrying them off as they enter their twenties is the priority of their parents who are willing to do anything for the same. Providing huge dowry in such cases works and this evil practice seems as a boon for those who are able to find (buy) groom for their daughters. However, it is time such mind set should be changed.

The supporters of dowry system also state that providing huge amount of gifts to the groom and his family raises the status of the bride in the family. However, statistics reveal that in most cases it has worked against the girls.

The dowry issue brings out so many contrasting sides to people and their preferences in life. Dowry is something to be ashamed of even as it is a source of pride, the kind that is flaunted at the most triumphant moment. The same set of people would be hiding it one moment in front of one particular group and not too long afterwards they might be found showing it off in front of another audience.

Why is Dowry System Still Intact?

The question remains that even after making dowry a punishable offense and spreading awareness about the ill-effects of this system through several campaigns why do people still practice it? Here are some of the main reasons why the dowry system remains intact despite being condemned by the masses:

  • In the Name of Tradition

The system of the bride’s family giving gifts to the groom and his family in the form of jewellery, cash, clothes, property, furniture and other assets is being practiced since decades. It has been given the name of tradition in various parts of the country and when the occasion is as pious as wedding, people cannot dare to neglect any tradition. People are following it blindly even though it is a burden for the bride’s family in majority of the cases.

  • Status Symbol

For some, the dowry system is more of a status symbol. The bigger car they give and the greater amount of cash they give to the groom’s family the more it boosts the status of both the families. Hence, even though they cannot afford many families end up throwing lavish wedding functions and giving numerous gifts to the groom and his relatives. It has become more of a competition these days. Everyone wants to beat the other.

  • Lack of Strict Laws

While the government has made dowry a punishable offence, the law has not been implemented strictly. There is no check on the exchange of gifts and dowry given during marriages. These loopholes are one of the main reasons why this evil practice still exists.

Apart from these, gender inequality and illiteracy are also major contributors to this heinous social system.

A word, too, must be said about love. Even while most marriages in Pakistan are arranged, all marriages operate on the hope that the couple will grow to love each other. The idea that love can develop on the sidelines — when the main event involves the payment of money or the purchase of goods — is simply a lie. Love and dowry, Pakistani men, and Pakistani grooms, must realise, simply do not go together. The latter is instrumental only in ensuring that the most important relationship in life is permanently riddled with resentment and greed from its very first moments.

Jahaiz Aik Lanat,” a very common phrase that is heard in our daily lives, yet no one implements it practically. If this system is brutal and evil enough to be called a “curse,” then why the people of Pakistan are still promoting the act that motivates domestic violence, mental torture and financial crises? Your daughters are way more precious to be given to someone who would only accept her for the assets she would bring with marriage. It is time to raise your voice against it and eradicate it from the society so that no other family suffers at the hands of this evil social.

Dowry System that initiated as a decent practice to help the girls financially as they took on the new phase of their life has gradually turned evil. Just as child marriage, child labour, caste system and gender inequality, dowry system is also one of the evil social systems that needs to be eradicated for the society to prosper. However, unfortunately despite the efforts made by the government as well as various social groups, this heinous system is still very much a part of the society.

There are laws that discourage the practice of giving and receiving dowry, but it is a problem that has long since been placed in a category which defies all attempts at reform. The entries in this category are best left unattended, at a comfortable distance from debate lest they turn into a source of collective pain and shame. There’s a sense of resignation with which society has accepted dowry as a necessary tradition that cannot be discontinued.

The moments when Pakistanis are shaken out of their apathy by a report on the ‘curse’ of jahez are becoming less frequent. There are, of course, bits of news about a ‘bride’ being burnt over her inability to bring a dowry befitting the status and imagination of her in-laws. There are so many incidents of husbands and in-laws losing their cool at some point and satisfying their anger by snuffing out a fragile, defenceless life.

In fact in Islam, as opposed to dowry, the mehr is a mandatory part of marriage. Quran says “Give women their fariza as a free gift”. Unfortunately, mehr is often erroneously elucidated as dowry although in reality it is a gift of money, possessions or property made by the husband to the wife which becomes her absolute property. When Hazrat Ali (RA) revealed his wish to marry Hazrat Fatima (RA), the Prophet (PBUH) inquired about mehr, to which Ali (RA) replied that he had a horse and a saddle. The Prophet (PBUH) advised him to sell the saddle. He sold the saddle for 480 dirhams and gave all the money to the Prophet (PBUH).

In Pakistan dowry is roofed under The Dowry and Bridal Gifts (Restriction) Act, 1976. Section 3 of the Act provides that “Neither the aggregate value of the dowry and presents given to the bride by her parents nor the aggregate value of the bridal gifts or of the presents given to the bridegroom shall exceed five thousand rupees.” Section 5 provides that “All property given as dowry or bridal gifts and all property given to the bride as a present shall vest absolutely in the bride and her interest in property however derived shall hereafter not be restrictive, conditional or limited.” Section 6 provides that “The total expenditure on a marriage, excluding the value of dowry, bridal gifts and presents, but including the expenses on mehndi, baarat and valima, incurred by or on behalf of either party to the marriage shall not exceed two thousand and five hundred rupees.”

Mere perusal of aforementioned provisions makes it crystal clear that the Act has become impotent due to its static and rigid nature. The superior courts whilst interpreting the said Act have also failed to interpret it in consonance with rapid socio-economic changes. Due to apathy of lawmakers towards bringing reforms in dowry law, the aforementioned statute only exists in theory, widely overlooked and candidly disregarded.

Desperate effort in Pakistan is required to enact laws penalizing the act of demanding dowry. Moreover, existing statute requires pragmatic and practical amendments in line with complex and ever-changing socio-economic dynamics. The amounts provided in statute are neither realistic nor rational; at the moment, the statute appears to be a slap in the face of masses. Lawmakers in Pakistan need to assess ground realities before amending, introducing or forming a new law governing dowry.


Last week, the UN Women Pakistan launched a campaign to attack this enduring scourge. It began a campaign centred on the slogan ‘jahez khori band karo’ or ‘end dowry consumption’. A number of celebrities, male and female, have signed onto the platform. Selfies with palms emblazoned with henna tattoos with the campaign’s motto have been shared all over social media. The campaign’s execution and components thumb their nose at prevalent ideas of masculinity that attempt to convey greater strength, but do not see the problem in extorting money from those with the ‘misfortune’ of having birthed daughters. The television launch featured a male celebrity who said he would be introducing his fiancé, but instead stood next to a number of goods — the television, furniture and appliances — that are all expected to arrive before the bride ever does.

Everyone knows the disasters of debt that are inflicted on families in the midst of arranging daughters’ marriages.

The campaign is a timely one. Everyone knows the disasters of debt that are inflicted on families that are in the midst of arranging marriages for their daughters. In many cases, grooms’ families take advantage of the dynamics of face-saving and the spectre of public shaming to increase demands at the last minute. Failure to pay, everyone knows, will equal certain humiliation and so last-minute loans to top those already taken are arranged.

Every society needs laws because they regulate the behaviour at individual level as well as collective level, and the first and foremost condition regarding laws is their effective, dynamic and flexible character. History of jurisprudence and development of legal thought teaches us that the idea behind existence of any legal structure is offering solutions to everyday crisis, dilemmas and problems that arise. And if the laws promulgated by the state fail to serve their purpose, the whole concept behind existence of the state seems unfounded.

It is indeed a very good initiative to stop the dowry system. However, like other campaigns and criticisms, this is a new type of criticism war that started between men and women. The point is, this is not a fight to win and get a reward but this is a traditional habit developed with time. If you want to end this practice and tradition, you must show the way of how it can be uprooted.

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Just running a campaign is not enough to end this practice. This tradition is like a necessary evil. Some of us can afford dowry whereas, on the other hand, some cannot. Yet they spend their life savings to gather their world as a gift for the couple. The major problem is for those people who can afford the dowry or to live their life. They sacrifice their lives and provide the dowry to their daughters. Some people cannot even manage dowry and their daughters cannot start their lives because those daughters’ parents cannot pay for the offering to the God of this evil tradition.

Yes, you read right, the God of this tradition needs offerings just like in the dark ages people used to offer their lives as offerings to their false Gods for different purposes. The right way to end this system is that one must know the reasons that why people give and at the other end, demand “Jahez.”

The Bride’s Side!


These are the remarks from the bride’s side when you say no to dowry and many more sentences you would hear when you say no to “jahez”

Number one, “Log Kya Kahainge”

Number two, “Saas To Jeena Haraam Kerdegi Hamari Beti Ka”

Number three, “Koi Izzat Nahen Dega Khandan Main”

Number four, “Arau Bhai Itne Nazoon Se Pali Hai Jahez Bhi Lazmi Denge Apni Pari Ko”

The Groom’s Side!

Source: JPMS Medical Blogs – Journal of Pioneering Medical Sciences

However, when there are “Jahez Khor” at dulha’s side i.e. the real “Jahez Khor” or “The Demanding Side”, no one will point a finger on them. They will never agree to marry a girl who is not bringing the investment for bridegroom’s business to be developed after marriage. The bridegroom’s parents have invested in his studies and made him stand on his feet to earn a job of 50,000 salaries on average. Now, they think that they have every right to refund that invested money in the form of “Jahez.” Well, everybody knows the left facts about why people give or demand “Jahez.”

How to end this custom? Well, this is not a simple task but not impossible. You can end this by following these rules and by sharing these concepts with others.

Source: Instagram

  1. Give simple dowry and follow the “Sunnah” as we are Muslims.
  2. Don’t care what others think because “Reya Kari” is another sin in Islam.
  3. Women should stop humiliating the other women because only women can waste time to ruin the lives of other women. The mother in law should treat her daughter in law as her own daughter and problem solved.
  4. The mature and wise women who know the above-described reasons should teach the other women to say no to dowry.
  5. The people who can bestow a lot upon their daughters of dowry should lower these expenses only for the sake of happiness of our “Holy Prophet (PBUH)”. So the middle class follows the same and the poor people could pay for the simple dowries.

This is a whole process, not just a campaign and you must do it right and then teach others with your acts. If you are gifting your daughter dowry worth 1 million and coming on social media supporting the “Jahez Khori Band Karo” campaign, know that you will be only criticized. However, if you would do it right then your purpose would be fulfilled.


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Rava Desk

Rava is an online news portal providing recent news, editorials, opinions and advice on day to day happenings in Pakistan.


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