Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
Afghanistan: Women Divorcing Addict Husbands
Afghan farmer prepares poppy bulbs for harvest in a field near the city of Kandahar. (Photo: Scott Nelson/Getty Images)
Qadria, 23, divorced her heroin addict husband a month ago.
“My husband was not only smoking heroin but also stealing others people’s things,” she told IWPR, adding that he had also taken all the money she earned as a seamstress and sold all their household goods.
“Then people started coming to our home and asked me to pay for what he had stolen,” she continued. “I had to pay for both his heroin and his stealing.”
Qadria now lives with their three children at her widowed mother’s house and faces an uncertain future.
Officials in the southeastern province of Kandahar report that large numbers of women are seeking divorces because they can no longer live with their drug addict husbands.
Addiction remains a serious problem in Afghanistan, the world’s top producer of opium and its refined product, heroin.
Noori, the deputy head of the provincial department of women’s affairs, said, “Twenty-five cases of divorce have been registered with us recently due to heroin addict husbands who didn’t care about their families.”
One or two women in the same situation approached them each day, she continued, adding that there were likely to be many more such cases that went unreported.
Shugofa Sahar, the head of the women’s department of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) in Kandahar said that they knew of 15 women who had got divorced because of addiction in the last four months.
Divorced women had to return to live with their parents until they remarried, she added. Often, custody of any children was handed to the husband’s parents.
Malika, 60, recounted how her daughter had moved back to live with her after getting divorced.
However, her in-laws kept her two children and now the young woman stayed up late every night crying for them.
Malika said that she had told her daughter many times to remarry, but she refused to do so until she got her children back.
“There is deep pain in my heart,” Malika said. “I am so shocked to see my daughter’s condition, and my daughter also constantly suffers thinking of her children.”
In Afghanistan, it is seen as deeply shameful for a woman to end her marriage. But many women say that they have been left with no choice.
“I know is nothing worse than divorce for a woman, but I had to get divorced,” said Fatima, who was married for six years and has two children.
She said that poverty had driven her husband to addiction. With tears in her eyes, she recalled how her husband had been so desperate for drugs that he wanted to sell his own children.
Fatima said that they were so poor that she and her children were always hungry and had to depend on their neighbours for food.
She had tried to get her husband off drugs and send him for treatment in hospital but he refused.
“He sacrificed my happiness for his addiction,” she said.
Head of the AIHRC’s research and investigation department, Farhad Saqib, said that when a woman petitioned for divorce, the court ordered a medical report to ascertain whether her husband was a genuine addict.
The man would then be referred to an addiction treatment centre. If he was willing to undergo treatment, the divorce petition would be dismissed.
If he refused, then this amounted to a danger to his wife and children and both Afghan and Sharia law mandate that women can seek a divorce without their husbands’ consent.
Opium, particularly in more remote parts of Afghanistan, has traditionally been used as a medicine. Poverty and decades of war have driven many to take heroin and the entire family suffers from the impact of addiction.
Sa’eeda, 50, has a son who has been taking heroin for six years. She said that she did not blame her daughter-in-law for seeking a divorce and returning to live with her own parents.
Her son simply no longer cared about anything apart from drugs, Sa’eeda said, adding that she had begged him to stop, tried to get relatives to convince him and even sent him a clinic for treatment, but to no avail.
“I married my son off very happily, but he got in with a bad crowd of friends and became addicted,” she said. “My home was destroyed, and now in my old age I am left to fight all these family problems alone.”
COUNTER-NARCOTIC STRETCHED THIN
According to the 2015 United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime report, poppy farming fell significantly in Kandahar last year, but it remains a major area of drug production.
Gul Mohammad Shukran, head of counter-narcotics in Kandahar, said that they had ended drug cultivation in many districts and were trying to eradicate it completely by providing poppy growers with an alternative means of livelihood.
Kandahar police spokesman Zia Durrani said more than ten addicts were arrested each week and sent for treatment.
There is some provision for addiction therapy in Kandahar, but it is woefully under-resourced.
Officials in Kandahar’s health department said that 200 addicts were currently in treatment around the province, but there was such demand that those on the lengthy waiting list would have to wait over a year for treatment.
A maximum of around 700 people were treated in Kandahar addiction clinics each year.
The head of addiction treatment at the provincial health department, Bilal Ahmad Keramat, said that the problem was on a huge scale. He estimated that more than 130,000 men and more than 10,000 women and children were addicted to heroin in Kandahar alone.
“If we could expand our facilities, then it would be possible to treat more patients, but still we are doing very well and have done a great deal of work with not much capacity,” said Keramat.
Many people who pass through the treatment centres also fail to stay off drugs in the long-term.
Religious scholars argue that a woman should stay in her marriage and try to help her husband tackle his problems.
Mawlawi Obaidullah Faizani, head of the ulema council of Kandahar, called for women to be patient and try to save their marriages.
“Islam has given men the option of divorce, and a woman cannot divorce her husband,” he said, adding that the break-up of a marriage was a huge misfortune for all concerned, so both parties needed to be patient.
The pressure has been too much for many relationships.
Kandahar city resident Jamil Ahmad said that he had been dabbling in drugs for the last two decades, but had become addicted to heroin in the last six years. He was trying to detox at the Addicts’ Treatment Hospital in Kandahar.
He told IWPR that his wife and family now despised him. She had left him and taken their three daughters and one son with her.
“It has been two years now since my wife and children left me and went to live in her father’s house,” he said, tears rolling down his cheeks. “I feel so sorry and would rather die than continue to live the way I do now.”
This report was produced under IWPR’s Promoting Human Rights and Good Governance in Afghanistan initiative, funded by the European Union Delegation to Afghanistan.
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