Dowry unleashes social problems
KABUL (PAN): Big weddings and bigger dowries -- the bane of Afghan society -- are responsible for serious and widespread social problems, reveals an Independent Media Consortium Productions (IMCP) investigation.*
Bridegrooms bear the cost of lavish marriage celebrations that include pre-wedding parties, dowry or money for the bride's family and Sharia Mahr, for the bride. While mahr is sanctioned by Islam, the practice of dowry, prevalent for centuries, is anti-Islam, says Professor Abdul Zahir Daee in the Sharia Faculty of Kabul University
IMC interviewed a cross-section of people in Kabul, Nangarhar, Balkh, Herat, Kandahar, Ghazni, Bamyan and Khost. Only five of the 200 interviewed - 30 percent women - were in favour of dowry. The money demanded can be anything between 5,000 Afs and over a million (90 USD to 17,800 USD). Brides in Bamyan, Herat, Ghazni and Kabul can demand more than 1 million Afs, whereas in Khost the maximum was 700,000 Afs (12,400 USD) and in Nangarhar 400,000 Afs (7,100 USD). The implications are myriad.
Aziz, 31, is a patient at Kabul Mental Health Hospital. He says he was engaged to be married. "The family of my father in law requested 900,000 Afs (16,000 USD) dowry, gold, clothes, and a marriage in a hotel. I loved my fiancée a lot so I went to Iran to earn money. One of my friends said if I took opium I would not feel sleepy and I would be able to earn more money. Slowly I got addicted."
Ghulam Haider, a resident of Kabul also became an addict in Iran where he went in search of his dowry money of 500,000 Afs (8,900 USD). "I have been engaged for the last seven years," he says. His prospective father-in-law has told him he will have to stop taking drugs if he wants to marry.
There is a price to be paid for the stigma of a long engagement, according to Tayeb Alokozai, a clinical psychologist at the mental health hospital. "I have patients who went into depression because of taunts of people," she says.
Driven to death
Jawed from Sayed Khail district in Parwan says his brother Fahim worked one and a half years in Iran trying to save for his dowry (150,000 Afs or 2,700 USD) and other wedding expenses. Sadly, he and four of his friends - two of whom had similarly crossed the border for dowries - were killed in Ghazni, on the treacherous Kabul-Kandahar highway, on the very day they returned from Iran.
Mohammad Hamed from Chak district, Wardak, who lives in Kabul, says he knew someone from Mamad village in his home district who went to Iran to put together 400,000 Afs (7,100 USD) for his wedding but was electrocuted and died.
Rahim, a resident of Giro district in Ghazni province, married a month after he returned from Iran in April. He says it took him five years to save 1 million Afs. But the money was just not enough for the marriage expenses. "I had to mortgage my land," he says. Rahim paid his father-in-law 1.2 million Afs (21,400 USD) as dowry, and spent 400,000 Afs on the wedding.
Now desperate for work he's considering leaving for Iran again. "The joblessness is difficult to bear, I have to go back to Iran," he told IMC in despair. His is not an unusual story. More than five million Afghans are compelled by various circumstances to work in neighbouring Pakistan and Iran.
Two percent of interviewees say high dowry demands force some bridegrooms to take their lives. The number is small but significant.
Thirty one-year-old Zaki from Dast-e-Barchi, a Kabul neighbourhood, committed suicide on May 28 this year. His younger brother Mahdi says his brother hanged himself only because he could not put together 250,000 Afs (4,500 USD) for dowry and other marriage costs.
“Zaki was a fiancée for three years. He was able to perform Shirini Khouri (engagement ceremony) a year and a half ago. But we were not able to hold the marriage and he took his own life," Mahdi says. The night before he killed himself Zaki had a bitter argument with their father who wanted him to take a loan for the wedding, the brother says. Zaki said he could not pay it back, according to Mahdi.
IMC tried to find figures on dowry suicide from the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) in the Ministry of Interior Affairs but wasn't successful.
Latifa Sultani, women's rights coordinator for AIHRC (Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission) believes exorbitant dowries and weddings contribute to the violence against women. The commission has received 160 complaints from women about problems arising from dowry.
Parween Rahimi of AIHRC's Women's Rights Advocacy Department says, "When the family of the bridegroom pays money and takes the bride to their house, they use her as a slave ... she is beaten, faces taunts and violence."
A significant 4 percent of people interviewed have confirmed that young men resort to crime to earn money for weddings.
Hasan from Sayed Karam district, Paktia, is languishing in police custody in Kabul for a botched up attempt to steal a car. Hasan says his prospective father-in-law gave him 20 days to arrange 800,000 Afs (14,200 USD) for the wedding so he and a friend hatched the plan to hijack a car. "Hamid and I took a lift in a car to Momoriat Square of Arzan Qimat, Kabul.
The driver of the Corolla said he'd take us if we paid 300 Afs (5 USD). We agreed. I sat at the back, and Hamid in front. At Momoriat I told the driver to stop the car. When he did, I told him to step out. The driver started screaming for help. People gathered in seconds. Hamid and I managed to escape but we were picked up by the police," he states in his confession letter to the Kabul Security Commandant. However, he told IMC he had been coerced by the police to confess, but Mohammad Arif Amin, chief of 12th Police District in Kabul denied the charge, saying it was a clear case of carjacking.
Violence and divorce
The burden of dowry has led to many cases of divorce, said five of the interviewees.
Rahima Razaie, head of Kabul Family Court, says that 70 percent of cases of separation were the result of violence in the marriage which was blamed on the crippling dowry demands.
resulted from dowry and is in increasing status.
The court granted divorce in 105 cases in 2011, in 156 cases in 2012, and in 46 cases in the first months of this year.
Abdul Razaq, village head of Barakat in Yaka Toot area of Kabul who is mostly involved in solving problems among people says dowry a major cause of separation and divorce.
Forced to be single
Ten percent of people interviewed said women and men remain single because their families cannot afford the extravagant weddings.
At 28, university graduate Razia from Chajin village in Waras district of Bamyan is both jobless and unmarried. "People don’t come forward with matches thinking I am educated and will ask for a steep dowry," she says.
Hakima is a resident of Estalif district, Kabul province . "I am 50 years old and unmarried. When I was young many people were match-making for me but my family set a too high dowry of 50,000 to 60,000 Afs (around 900 USD)." With her parents long dead, Razia lives at the mercy of a married brother and his family.
A 70-year-old man called Karim from Badakhshan province who is living in a shelter run by Red Crescent Society in Kabul says, “I was labouring hard but I did not have money to marry. So I am still single.”
Escape from dowry
Some young women, however, have been bold enough to escape the impossible dowry terms set by their families by eloping.
Shabana, 21, from Kabul says she was engaged for six months. Her fiancée, in the Afghan National Army, could not have saved 100,000 Afs (900 USD) as dowry and 1.5 million Afs (2,700 USD) as mahr. "I escaped from the house," she says. Shabana stayed two weeks in a government shelter before she got married in a family court on July 16.
Diba Ayubi, her lawyer, says, “ Shabana's mother wanted to cancel the engagement with Mahfuz and engage her with her aunt's son. Shabana fled the house. Their dossier was processed in court and the young couple was married."
Mohammad Nasim, 34, who is a driver and lives in Khair Khana, Kabul, says he has been engaged for four years because he has not been able to pay the 400,000 Afs (7,100 USD) dowry. His prospective father-in-law no longer lets him visit, and his fiancée, who's tired of her father's behaviour, has frequently suggested they should elope. But Nasim thinks this would be wrong.
A law to scale down extravagant marriages that was drafted in 2010 has been lying with President Karzai's Council of Ministers.
The draft law prohibits the bride's family from making specific demands for marriage. Article 9 says the bridegroom and his family can pay some money as dowry. The mahr is solely the bride's, and cannot be used by her family. The number of guests cannot be more than 300 for the engagement and 500 for the wedding. The food ordered must not be more than 400 Afs (7 USD) per person.
Abdul Majid Ghanizada, the head of Civil Law in the Ministry of Justice says discussions on the draft law have been repeatedly postponed because of the president's preoccupation with other pressing matters.
Fawzia Amini the head of Women Rights Department in ministry of Women remains hopeful the law will be approved with only minor changes.
(*) Independent Media Consortium is a joint initiative of Pajhwok Afghan News, The Killid Group (radio and print media), Saba Media Organisation (Saba TV-Radio Nawa nets) and Hasht-e-Subh. This is the fourth of a series of investigative reports on corruption and human rights cases.
A report by Killid’s Sohaila Weda Khamosh
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