Forced engagements increasing rates of elopement
Shukria says her father would not allow her to marry her boyfriend. Instead, he promised her to his nephew.
"One day when my boyfriend came to our house to seek my hand, my father forced him out. Then I tried to kill myself. I jumped from the roof of our house and got my hands and legs broken," she recalled.
She spent several days in the hospital and was unable to walk for three months. Three months ago, she fled her family’s home and married her boyfriend.
"It was too hard for me to marry my cousin, because he is like a brother to me and I simply couldn’t accept him as a husband," she said.
She said she had urged her mother to allow her to marry her boyfriend, but that both her parents ignored her entreaties and insulted her.
A week before she was due to be engaged to her cousin, she talked to her boyfriend over the phone and managed to reach Kabul after fleeing her family home in Paktia.
She said if she returns to her family, she will be killed. Her cousin still insists she is his fiancée.
"My husband and I feel scared all the time. My husband had a good job in Paktia, but now we cannot afford expenses to live in Kabul," she said.
A Kabul court had referred Shukria’s case to the Ministry of Women’s Affairs. Nazia Faizi, an official at the ministry, said Shukria was living in a safe house until she got married.
Faizi said they had contacted Shukria's family, who responded that Shukria was dead to them and that they did not know anyone by that name.
Human rights authorities say elopements have long been common in society, but the trend is on the rise among women and girls in recent years.
Over 292 cases of elopement have been recorded across the country since the end of March.
Most of the cases surfaced in Kabul, Herat and Nangarhar provinces, said Suraya Sabharrag of Afghanistan’s Independent Human Rights Commission.
She said 65 cases were observed in three months alone, showing a 10 percent increase over the same period last year.
Such cases can result from domestic violence, economic and cultural issues.
Independent Human Rights Commission officials say the phenomenon is not limited to young girls. Women who are abused by husbands or family members also escape by eloping.
Sabharrag maintains another big factor is the exchange of girls to settle disputes between families.
Angela, 17, a resident of the Da Sabz district, is one of the victims of this centuries-old tradition. She was married to her cousin when she was just seven years old.
She said her husband was the father of seven children when she married him.
Col. Amir Mohammad Amwajpur, chief of a female prison, said 166 women and girls are being held there. The prisoners are serving sentences for different kinds of cases including drug smuggling, kidnapping and other offenses. He said a number of girls who had eloped were among the prisoners.
Maulvi Samsull-Rahman, a religious scholar, says marriage should be a matter of mutual understanding between a man and a woman. "It is important to know the will of girl and boy before they marry," he said.
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