Watta satta or shighar (Urdu: ،شغار،وٹہ سٹہ) is an exchange marriage common in Pakistan and Afghanistan.[1][2]

The custom involves the simultaneous marriage of a brother-sister pair from two households. In some cases, it involves uncle–niece pairs, or cousin pairs.[3] Watta satta is more than just an exchange of women from two families or clans; it establishes the shadow of mutual threat across the marriages. A husband who abuses his wife in this arrangement can expect his brother-in-law to retaliate in kind against his sister. Watta satta is cited as a cause of both low domestic violence in some families, and conversely for extreme levels of reciprocal domestic violence in others.[1][4]

In Pakistan it is typically endogamous, with over 75% marriages involving blood relatives, and 90% of these marriages occurring within the same village, tribe or clan (zaat, biraderi).[5][6] In rural parts of Pakistan, watta satta accounts for over 30% of all marriages.[5][7]


The rationale for watta satta custom has been theorized as an environment with generally low and uncertain incomes, weak or uncertain legal institutions of the state, watta satta may be the most effective means available to the poor to prevent marital discord, divorces and domestic abuse.[1] It enables a form of social pressure and reciprocity, wherein a man who abuses his wife is expected to be deterred by the possibility that his own sister will suffer from similar or more severe retaliation by the brother of his wife. In practice, watta satta may either promote peace in the two families, or (as has also been observed) produce escalating, retaliatory episodes of domestic violence.[8][9]

Bride exchange between two families is also seen as an informal way to limit demands and consequences of dower (brideprice) and dowry disputes.[10]


In rural parts of northwest and west Pakistan, and its tribal regions, watta satta accounts for over 30% of all marriages.[5][7]

Watta satta is implicitly an endogamous form of marriage. In practice, over 50% of watta satta marriages are within the same village; on a geographical level, over 80% of women either live in the same village of their birth or report being able to visit it and return home in the same day. Over three out of four women in watta satta marriage are married to a blood relative, mostly first-cousins with a preference for the paternal side; of the rest, majority are married to someone unrelated by blood but within the same zaat and biradari (a form of clan in Muslim communities of Pakistan) or clan.[11][12]

The custom of bartering brides is also observed in Muslim agrarian societies of Afghanistan.[13][14]

In Islamic communities of Mali, bride exchange between two families has also been observed. It is locally called falen-ni-falen.[15][16] The practice is prevalent in rural parts of Yemen as well.[17]

In Islam

Shighar is the practice of exchanging brides between two families, where the girl and dowry of one family is exchanged for a girl and dowry from another family. This is prevalent in Saudi Arabia and neighboring countries.[18] This practice is often a means to reduce or evade dowry, and as such is prohibited in Islam,[19] although it is prevalent in Saudi Arabia.[20] Muhammad is reported in Sahih Bukhari[citation needed] and Sahih Muslim[citation needed] to have said "There is no Shighar in Islam."[19]

See also


  1. ^ a b c Watta Satta: Bride Exchange Hanan G. Jacoby and Ghazala Mansuri, World Bank (Washington DC)
  2. ^ Latif, Z. (2010), The silencing of women from the Pakistani Muslim Mirpuri community in violent relationships. Honour, Violence, Women and Islam, 29
  3. ^ Watta Satta Sajid Chaudhry (February 8, 2007), Pakistan Daily Times
  4. ^ Niaz, U. (2004), Women's mental health in Pakistan. World Psychiatry, 3(1)
  5. ^ a b c Watta Satta: Bride Exchange and Women’s Welfare in Rural Pakistan Hanan G. Jacoby and Ghazala Mansuri, World Bank Policy Research Working Paper 4126, February 2007 (Washington DC)
  6. ^ Charsley, K. (2007), Risk, trust, gender and transnational cousin marriage among British Pakistanis, Ethnic and Racial Studies, 30(6), pp 1117-1131
  7. ^ a b PAKISTAN: Traditional marriages ignore HIV/AIDS threat IRIN, United Nations press service (6 December 2007)
  8. ^ Hanan Jacoby; G. Mansuri (2010). "Watta Satta: Bride Exchange and Women's Welfare in Rural Pakistan" (PDF). The American Economic Review. 100 (4): 1804–1825. doi:10.1257/aer.100.4.1804. S2CID 18781194.
  9. ^ M. Zaman; M. Wohlrab-Sahr (2010). "Obstructed individualization and social anomie". Individualisierungen. VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften: 155–175. doi:10.1007/978-3-531-92589-9_8. ISBN 978-3-531-16983-5.
  10. ^ Dead Yemeni Child Bride Was Tied Up, Raped, Says Mom April 10, 2010
  11. ^ Jacoby, H. G., & Mansuri, G. (2010). Watta Satta: Bride Exchange and Women's Welfare in Rural Pakistan, The American Economic Review, 100(4), 1804-1825
  14. ^ Lindisfarne, N., & Tapper, N. (1991). Bartered brides: politics, gender and marriage in an Afghan tribal society (Vol. 74). Cambridge University Press
  15. ^ Beswick, S. (2012). Brian J. Peterson. Islamization from Below: The Making of Muslim Communities in Rural French Sudan, 1880–1960. The American Historical Review, 117(4), Chapter 5, pp 1329-1360
  16. ^ Peterson, B. J. (2004). SLAVE EMANCIPATION, TRANS-LOCAL SOCIAL PROCESSES AND THE SPREAD OF ISLAM IN FRENCH COLONIAL BUGUNI (SOUTHERN MALI), 1893–1914. The Journal of African History, 45(3), pp 421-444
  17. ^ Yemen's sacrificial brides April 14, 2010
  18. ^ The Encyclopedia of Islam, Bosworth et al. (Volume VI), ISBN 9789004090828, pp 475-476
  19. ^ a b Shighar Marriage Fatwa 275, The Permanent Committee for Scholarly Research and Ifta, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (2009)
  20. ^ Child Brides Cynthia Gorney, National Geographic, USA (June 2011)