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Eternally Engaged

Men pay huge amounts of money to get married.
In Helmand and neighbouring provinces, the high price of getting married means many young people stay single for years. Some young women girls wait for years, their black hair turning to grey in their father’s home.

Zainullah Stanikzai has the story:

I’m at a wedding in Nad Alli district. Hajini Matulla is getting married for the second time.

But if it’s a happy day for him, it isn’t the same for one of the guests. Mahmad Walli says he’s likely to be a guest at many more weddings but has no idea when he himself will get to dress as the groom.

“I got engaged five years ago, but I’m still not married. I agreed to pay 500,000 rupees for my bride, but I only make 200 a day and I’m also supposed to support my family,” he says. “There’s no way I can get married. The only way is to plant [opium] poppy.”

Mahmad Walli says he’s never even seen his bride. Other engaged couples do meet, however, although they can’t live together.

One middle-aged woman who doesn’t give her name says she’s angry with her daughter’s fiancé. Her unmarried daughter now has a two-year old child. But her husband has sworn to God not to let the marriage go ahead until the groom pays over all the money.

“He’s not giving us the money. He is not thinking of his child or his wife. My husband fought with him - he came to him with a Koran and demanded that he pay. But he told my husband, ‘Let your daughter marry me soon, for no money.’ When his child is sick, we’re the ones who have to take him to the doctor.”

While many people complain about the high bride-price that prospective grooms must pay, some defend the practice. They say the more money parents ask for, the more respected their daughter will be.

Akhtar Mahmad, a farmer, says that his own sisters went for a very high price.

“We can’t give away our daughters and sisters for free. If we do, they won’t be respected. They’ll have a bad relationship with their in-laws. And the groom? Five days later, he’ll be able to go and marry another one! If he spends all the money on the first wedding, he won’t be able to do that,” he says.

A mullah, who does not give his name, says Islam is against high bride-prices, “According to Shariah law, our Prophet says the best marriages are made when the price paid for the bride is low. Therefore it would be best if people charge just a little money. It would allow the groom’s family to continue their lives easily, without being hurt by it.”

It’s hard to say how many men are growing or harvesting poppy, or spending years working in other countries, just to save up enough money to get married. But in Helmand, it’s not just the bride that costs a lot –weddings themselves are expensive. And it’s hard to know where else most Helmand boys can get that kind of money.

Zainullah Stanikzai, for IWPR radio in Helmand.

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