Another example of child marriage after the pattern of Muhammad’s marriage to Aisha, and a symptom a culture that often treats women as possessions. “‘My father sold me’,” from Agence France-Presse:
Shabana, A pretty Afghan teenager with a modern haircut, was 12 years old when she was forced to marry a man 38 years her senior to settle her father’s 600-dollar gambling debt. Two years later, she is unhappy and angry. She doesn’t like her husband, 52-year-old farmer Mohammad Asef.
“He is wild – he destroyed my hopes,” she said in their humble mudbrick home in the northern province of Balkh, speaking out only when Asef went into another room to take a call. She doesn’t get on with her husband’s first wife, who is aged 42 and lives with them. And she is disgusted with her father. “He sold me,” she told AFP.
Her father and husband once farmed together, growing wheat and opium poppies on a plot in neighbouring Jawzjan province. Two years ago, after the harvest was in, Asef went to Balkh’s Mazar-i-Sharif city to visit his family. “When I came back, my father-in-law had gambled away all the harvest,” he said. “He promised me to get my money in one month but he couldn’t find it. I knew he wouldn’t because he is a very poor man. It was about 600 dollars. When he couldn’t find the money, I married his 12-year-old daughter in compensation.”
Shabana, who likes to wear jeans and read novels and newspapers, was taken out of school. Now she spends most of her time doing chores in the simple house for which Asef cannot yet afford doors. The illegal practise of exchanging girls to settle debts, including those owed to opium farmers, or to settle disputes between clans persists around the country – with the latter more common in the north. There are no statistics partly because there are no resources for collecting such data, said Ministry of Women’s Affairs legal advisor Sayed Abdul Wahab Rahmani. And in areas hit by the Taleban-led insurgency, the precarious security situation would prevent such research, he said.
About 670 women went to the ministry in the capital last year with complaints ranging from forced marriage to domestic violence, Rahmani said, by way of offering some sort of figure. The number is without doubt a fraction of the total number of cases in largely rural and destitute Afghanistan, where men hold sway and often break the law with impunity, including by marrying underage girls or using them to settle debts or feuds.
About 57 per cent of girls are married before the legal age of 16, according to statistics from the women’s ministry and women’s groups. Between 60 and 80 per cent of all marriages are believed to be ‘forced’ – a term that covers a range of practises including marrying off girls to repay debts or without their consent, according to the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission. This is one of the main factors behind girls and women running away from home or committing suicide, including by setting themselves alight by dousing themselves in fuel and igniting it with a match.
In Afghanistan, as in many Asian and African cultures, men pay the family of their wives-to-be an agreed sum, sometimes called the bride price, as well as the cost of the wedding which can also run into thousands of dollars – the average in Kabul is 4,000 dollars. This can be an enormous sum in one of the poorest countries in the world where a low-grade civil servant earns about 60 dollars a month.
To be able to afford his own wife, Abdul Raheem, also from Balkh province, says he wants to marry off his 12-year-old sister as soon as he can. The family of the woman he has set his heart on wants 6,000 dollars for her. Raheem, who earns 60 dollars a month as a cleaner in a police station in Mazar, has saved 2,000 dollars. “It’s very difficult for me to find 4,000 dollars,” he said. But if he could marry off his sister, “then I can marry my girlfriend,” he told AFP.