TOO POOR TO TIE THE KNOT: One million young Afghans unable to marry

Despite years of strife, terrorism and foreign occupations which have affected generations of Afghanistan’s people mentally and physically, there is still a strive to leave normal lives – to work, study, marry and raise families. Their lives are no different or unusual than that of any other nationality on the face of the Earth.

Youngh Afghan girl plays during the fourth Int...
Young Afghan girl plays during the fourth International AgFair held in Kabul, Afghanistan, Oct. 07, 2010. (ISAF photo by SSGT BEAULINETTE French Army/released) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Many Afghans marry at a very young age, something which is being actively discouraged…with some success

Afghanistan’s traditional cultures as well as its predominate religion of Islam means that great store is placed on marriage and the union of two families. Islam itself teaches that a person completes half of their faith or ‘deen’ upon matrimonial union.

However, a combination of a drawn-out decades long war, combined with age-old traditions and financial greed, has left approximately one million young Afghan men and women unable to marry.

The prohibitive cost of weddings is one factor to blame. Although major cities such as Kabul and Herat still retain a moneyed class that  experience little difficulty in wedding costs and where there are even shops that cater for wedding dress hire, the majority of Afghan families subsist on a handful of dollars a day – making saving for a wedding a lifelong, and for some – an impossible task.

View from the Herat Citadel, in Afghanistan.
View from the Herat Citadel, in Afghanistan. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The old Pashtun custom of toyana has come in for particular criticism by those wishing to prevent a generation of lonely and frustrated men from disobeying their cultural and religious expectations and possibly being sucked into the arms of the Taliban which still operate across several Afghan provinces. They also hold the custom responsible for crushing the country’s fledgling women’s rights. Afghanistan was recently declared one of the bottom five world nations in which to be female.

Toyana is the custom of the groom’s family paying a sizeable sum of money to the family of the bride upon request. This is addition to the wedding costs themselves, which are also paid from the pockets of the groom’s father. Some weddings have been known to cross the 1 million Afghani ($19,577 , £12,209) mark, causing many families intense hardship and a lifetime of suffocating debt.

Recently, Afghanistan’s ministry of women’s affairs have proposed making it a crime for a girl’s family to extort toyana from their future son-in-law’s relatives. In an interview with local media last week, deputy minister Muzghan Mustawafi, one of the few powerful female voices in President Hamid Karzai’s government, said that money-hungry families demanding dowry should face up to 10 years’ imprisonment, as demanded by the country’s constitution.

Mustawafi commented ” Thousands of young people are yet single and unable to form their own families due to such traditions (among Afghans) “. She also urged that these customs were incompatible with Islam which only sanctions the gifting of “haq mehr” or bridal gift. Haq mehr is a promissory and relatively minor sum of money or gold gifted by the bride’s family. This is retained by the bride herself as an insurance policy to support herself and her offspring in the event of her husband’s death or annulment of the marriage.

Kabul (Photo credit: nabard19)

The ministry has urged people to abandon the tradition of toyana as not only being anti-Muslim and anti-social but also for its role in devastating people’s lives and forcing people to marry much later, as has been the case for many years in Afghanistan’s major cities.

There have been official reports of families marrying their daughters at school-going age as to obtain sizeable amounts of toyana dowry, which has a substantially negative impact on women’s rights in the region,  among the lowest in the world. Shinkai Karokhail, a government MP and women’s activist said: “It is the selling of daughters for money that young age marriages take place in Afghanistan, that women are deprived of their Haq Mehr, that women fail to continue their education, that women become victims of domestic violence, and that economical, psychological and social issues emerge “. The exaggerated bride price means that such young brides are held to account and blamed for putting their in-laws through penury. Many are routinely abused and enslaved, considered a liability to the family, disposable at will.

The ministry’s campaign will be promoted through a series of meetings, round tables with policymakers and the public, and additionally the publication of supporting articles on social networking sites.

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