Afghan Wives Fight for Freedom

Hundreds of women taken from their families and forcibly married to Taleban men are taking legal steps to regain their freedom.

Afghan Wives Fight for Freedom

Hundreds of women taken from their families and forcibly married to Taleban men are taking legal steps to regain their freedom.

Afghan women desperate to divorce their Taleban husbands are appealing to the country's courts in droves.

Around 50 women a day are applying to have their marriages annulled in each of Kabul's 16 districts, according to Mohammad Usman, chairman of a legal commission in the capital.

While Afghanistan has made many social advances since the student militia was overthrown in November 2001, it remains a deeply conservative society and many are unsettled by the idea of a woman starting divorce proceedings.

Unease over the development is such that some women are being detained while their cases are examined. A criminal investigation officer based in Kabul told IWPR, "We have imprisoned 12 women who have fled from their homes and say that they were married against their will during the Taleban's rule.”

One young woman in detention, who did not want to give her name, said, "I was forcibly married two years ago. Now that the rights of all people have been restored in Afghanistan, I want my freedom. My husband doesn't let me go to work.”

Since the hard line Islamist regime fell in November 2001, many Taleban men vanished abroad or went into hiding. Others simply shaved off their beards and continued to ensure that their wives remained virtual prisoners in their own homes. However, the latter became emboldened by the increasing freedoms enjoyed by women following the change of regime and some are now determined to break free from their husbands.

Zulfia's husband was an intelligence chief with the student militia. She claims she was married against her will and taken to live in a refugee camp near Peshawar. And while she soon escaped and returned to her father's house, her family forced her to go back to her husband. She is now looking for help to end the marriage.

“My father sold me to my husband for a lot of money. I want a divorce and I appeal to the human rights commission (one of independent bodies the new government has set up) to help me," she said.

Most senior Taleban officials married after coming to power, many taking second or third wives. Eventually, the regime's spiritual leader Mullah Mohammad Omar forbade his commanders from taking more than one wife.

Yet some women were left with no choice. Mullah Radeh Gul, an aide to Taleban national guard commander Mullah Qayum Zakir, wanted to marry a girl from Kapisa province near Kabul.

However, the girl turned his proposal down. Her father supported her, but turned his daughter over following threats to his life, after which the girl attempted suicide. The marriage went ahead and like many other educated Kabuli women, she now lives in grinding poverty in a remote village far from her family.

Abdul Shukoor, a judge in Kabul's second district, told IWPR, "Most women coming to the court have such claims (of forced marriage). Because we haven't received any decision from the supreme court, we are very careful in this regard."

The majority of Muslims in Afghanistan are Sunnis who follow Hanafi principles. In normal circumstances, a woman is not allowed to divorce a man. Exceptions can be made in cases where a court accepts that a marriage took place against her will, but these are rare.

Often men of power, typically warlords, will force families to allow them to marry their daughters. In a number of cases, the entire family of the hapless bride will flee the country rather than submit.

One commander spent around 14,000 US dollars on presents and then went to the Taleban stronghold of Kandahar to prepare for his wedding. By the time he returned to Kabul, his intended had vanished along with her relatives.

The authorities have compiled a list of women who may have been taken from the capital and other provinces and are now investigating claims of forced marriage.

For example, Nazar Mohammad, a Taleb from Helmand province in the south, proposed to marry a girl in the Kabul district of Microrayan. After being turned down three times, he allegedly took some armed men and a mullah to her house, married her on the spot and took her to Helmand, hundreds of miles away. After the fall of the student militia, she escaped back to Kabul where she now lives with her family.

Danesh Kerokhel is an IWPR journalism trainee in Kabul.

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