Poor teenage Muslim girls from the south Indian city of Hyderabad have again become the target of middle-aged men from the UAE and other Gulf states.

A well-established racket operates with the connivance of taxi drivers at the airport and clerics to bypass local laws and "marry" the girls off for sums as little as Dh300.

A senior Muslim scholar in Dubai has condemned these convenience marriages, saying they are haram or prohibited, and has called for laws to stop them.

The city of Hyderabad in South India is known for its biryani, its natural pearl market and, unfortunately, its pretty girls.

It has one of the largest urban Muslim populations in India. The majority live in the old quarter of this historic city, which has had close contacts with the Arab world for centuries.

The Nizam, or ruler, of Hyderabad once had an army comprising mainly Yemenis. Their ancestors now live in an area of town called the barkas, apparently the Indianisation of the English word barracks.

"These men not only bring shame on themselves, but also to their country."

Dr Saif Al Gabiri
Islamic scholar

Today, every third household in the old city has a family member working in one of the six Gulf states.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, at the height of the oil boom, huge numbers of expatriates arrived in the Gulf, and at the same time Arabs headed for this city seeking young brides.

According to reports about 3,000 Hyderabadi Muslim girls were being "sold off" by their poverty-stricken parents to rich Arab men every year.

Many were later reportedly found working as maids in their new homes. Such marriages were finally stopped when the state Awqaf board made it mandatory to get police clearance for marriages with foreigners.

Recently there has been a change in tactics. Middle-aged Arabs now come to this city as "medical tourists", pay as little as Dh300 to the parents and marry and divorce the girl all in one week.

"It's a well established racket," says Amarnath K. Menon, assistant editor of India Today, who has written extensively on this issue. He says there is a local nexus of taxi drivers, marriage brokers and qazis — clerics who perform the so-called weddings.

"These are extremely poor girls whose parents are daily wage earners," he said. The qazis apparently also run "guest houses" for these visitors.

The state cannot intervene because the clergy would complain that Muslim personal law is being violated.

The city of Hyderabad in South India is known for its biryani, its natural pearl market and, unfortunately, its pretty girls.
Menon said the most recent case involved a girl named Ameena whose Arab husband had deserted her. She is now married to a rickshaw puller.

"The numbers have come down. There are less than a few hundred such cases today," he said.

A senior police officer in Hyderabad told Gulf News that the police are keeping a sharp watch on the "guest houses" and the marriage touts.

"Parents don't realise that these children could get infected with Aids and other diseases," said Tejdeep Kaur, additional commissioner of police.

She said the police are working closely with the local NGO (non-government organisation) to teach skills such as tailoring to these abandoned girls. "We are trying to educate the women about the health hazards of such marriages," she said.

The police officer said it was sad that the girls themselves favoured this arrangement, apparently because it brings some money into the poor households.

Ali Asghar, a social worker and secretary of the Hyderabad-based Confederation of Voluntary Associations (Cova), said the police are now trying to check the movement of foreigners.

"The police are on the hunt for the qazis," he said. He said the marriage and divorce papers are given at the same time by the qazis.

"Even if the elderly man marries the teenager, the marriage would not work. At the most, it will last about three years."

Dr Hussain Ali Maseeh

He said this situation was created by "Gulf money". Marriage expenses have risen dramatically, he said. Then there is the scourge of the dowry system, in which the bride's father must pay huge sums to the groom and his family.

"Even the poor aspire to the same things," he said, and this is how they fall prey to easy money. It was reported that clerics and Muslim elders have begun preaching against the dowry and the misuse of Muslim law governing divorce.

Asked whether the clerics are raising this issue in their Friday sermons in Hyderabad mosques, Asghar said, "Not at all."

Case study

Fatima Abdul Quyyum finally went home to Hyderabad recently after spending seven years in a Ras Al Khaimah jail.

She was a pretty 18-year-old when she arrived in the UAE, married to an 85-year-old man. But the years in jail had taken their toll and she was no longer an attractive teenager when she was freed after the payment of blood money.

Fatima had been convicted of killing her husband. She had told the court she was innocent and that it must have been one of her relatives who had done it when he heard about her unhappy marriage.

S.A. Saleem, president of the Ras Al Khaimah Indian Association, said the husband's family had demanded Dh150,000 in blood money.

"We bargained hard and finally brought it down to Dh50,000," he said. The social worker said the Indian government is now making it difficult for young girls to leave the country. "They are not given visas," he said.

This legislation was passed after the dramatic rescue of another young Hyderabadi girl several years ago when she was noticed by an alert stewardess on a flight to the Gulf. The stewardess alerted the authorities and the news made fron