Paying a Price for Marriage

The lives of many young Afghans are being wrecked by families demanding exorbitant marriage payments.

Paying a Price for Marriage

The lives of many young Afghans are being wrecked by families demanding exorbitant marriage payments.

Najiba Marouf killed herself on her wedding day. While her family and her groom were waiting for the ceremony to begin, the Kabuli teenager swallowed a fatal dose of poison - unable to face life with the elderly man her father had chosen for her.

In a suicide note to her father, Najiba, 16, wrote, “I don’t want my other two sisters to be sacrificed for money. My last request is that you please let them marry the person they want. Please do not do with them what you did with me.”

Najiba’s father Bashi Abdul told IWPR that he had accepted 300,000 Pakistani rupees - 5,000 US dollars - from an old man from Farah province in exchange for his daughter’s hand in marriage. “She could not agree with the choice I made for her. The wedding party changed to a day of grief,” he said.

There are often such tragic ends when money changes hands to secure a marriage. It can not only bring misery to the bride, but also debt and despair to the groom and his family.

Such financial transactions are a tradition in parts of Afghan society, and is not to be confused with “maher moajal” - cash paid by a groom’s family after the wedding has taken place, which is then held as a reserve in case the marriage fails or the groom dies. In such an event, the maher is used for the wife’s living expenses.

But the frail Afghan economy and the parlous financial state of many families has meant that they expect greater sums from men seeking to marry their daughters.

A man with an especially beautiful daughter, for example, could marry her off to whoever offers the highest amount of money – whether she is in favour of the wedding or not.

The authorities insist that paying additional money to the parents is strictly forbidden in Islamic law, but is permissible if the bride-to-be agrees to it, according Sayed Abdul Razaq, president of the trading section at the Afghan supreme court.

With the authorities showing little sign of wanting to intervene, young Afghans are left to suffer.

Shakiba, in her early twenties with a four-year-old son, wanted to marry her childhood sweetheart but her father did not approve of the match - until boyfriend Feraidoon and his family came up with an offer of nearly 6,000 dollars.

The couple were very happy, but Feraidoon was keeping a terrible secret. He had borrowed this vast sum – three years salary for a school teacher in Afghanistan – and now could not pay it back. He killed himself seven months into the marriage.

“My husband was insulted and threatened by the people who had lent him money. Eventually, he threw himself in front of a train,” Said Shakiba.

“However, the real killer is my father, because if he had not insisted on such a large payment, this would never have happened. Since Feraidoon’s suicide, I have not gone to my father’s house and I will never go there again.”

Serajuddin, a 29-year-old farmer from the Bagrami region of Kabul, now wishes he had never got married. “I put my land up as a pledge to pay for the wedding. I paid 160 million afghanis - 4,000 dollars - to my father-in-law plus provided rice, meat, firewood, clothes and sweets.

“I don’t have enough income to repay this money, and am now working on other people’s farms to raise cash. Families should allow their daughters to marry freely and should not sell them in this way. Money cannot buy a human being.”

But many Afghans – especially those with big families - would beg to differ, as they regard such financial transactions as a crucial part of the household budget.

“I have four girls and three sons. I have to take more cash for my daughters’ weddings because I had to pay a high amount at the marriage of my son,” said Akhtar Mohammed, a driver from Logar province.

“If someone wants to be engaged, he should pay the price specified by the girl’s father. It is not a good idea to marry without paying an amount - and any woman who does so will not be respected. If a person does not have any money, they should not think about getting married.”

Mohammad Naseem Shafaq is a freelance journalist based in Kabul.

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