Trip to Gardez, 3-4 April 2005
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Marriage in Afghanistan  

While at Zurmat, a Marine there told Obai and me about one of his young ANA soldiers who had recently gone AWOL. The young man had returned home on pass to find his 18-year-old girlfriend had been married off to a 37-year-old man by her parents. It broke his heart so much he couldn’t return to duty.  

As in many parts of the world, arranged marriages are the norm here, and the young man was swimming upstream thinking his marriage would be different. Obai told us more about arranged marriages in Afghanistan.  

For one thing, the practice isn’t entirely bad. It assures that all women will be taken care of, and helps join two families toward greater mutual strength. The wishes of the young woman may be taken into account, but certainly not with veto power over such a critically practical matter.  

The Marine expressed much sympathy for his Afghan soldier. Playing devil’s advocate, I asked him to consider that while we do have freedom of choice when marrying in America, we also have a 50% divorce rate. I wondered what the divorce rate was here. Obai then told us that though love may be unimportant in marriage in Afghanistan, divorce is virtually non-existent.  

That’s because for a husband to divorce his wife means calamity for her. She is now “spoiled,” certainly no longer a virgin, and could probably not remarry. Then who would care for her? Where would she live? So everyone understands that if the husband does not have good reason to divorce his wife, he can justifiably be sought and killed by his wife's brothers, cousins, or uncles.  

I don’t remember Obai telling us if a wife can divorce her husband. Probably not, except in extenuating circumstances. Checking the web just now, found this: http://pz.rawa.org/rawa/womenstill.htm  

A few weeks after the trip, on 25 Apr 05, I heard this at breakfast from two MPRI contractors, ie, reliable sources, about a tragic incident in a rural area up north. 

Details are sketchy. A husband had been in Iran for five years. [Incommunicado? Doing what there?] While he was gone, his wife had been unfaithful. [With whom? Consensual? Expecting her husband never to return?] On her husband’s reappearance, the village elders and mullah declared the wife's punishment, and she was stoned to death. [By whom? Only her husband and his family? Or the entire village? What of her own family?]  

The men at the table said this was not the first stoning, and demonstrates how strong the ancient traditions remain in Afghanistan in the 21st century.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One of the MPRI men added something interesting. They have a number of interpreters, some of whom are young men in their twenties, college educated, knowledgeable about the West. He said a surprising number of them want their wives to not only be virgins, but to “never have even been seen by another man before. It’s as if they want their wives to have grown up in a covered cage since they were little girls. If the young and educated feel this way, how long will it take until women get out of the burka over here?”  

For more about hardships of women in Afghanistan, here’s a report about the girl in that famous National Geographic cover photo: http://www.usatoday.com/news/world/2002/03/12/afghan-girl.htm

 

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