Afghans seek divorce from marital
traditions By Farangis
In Afghanistan, few bat an eye
when a young suitor spends a small fortune to
secure his bride.
The payment of a
walwar - essentially a dowry or premarital
fee paid to the bride-to-be's parents - can run
into the thousands of dollars, adding to the
already exorbitant costs plunked down for the
Now there is a movement
within the country's government to
divorce the Afghan people
from such long-standing but financially crippling
The Afghan Women's Affairs
Ministry is waging war on the walwar,
arguing that it is not only technically illegal
but unnecessarily buries families under tremendous
"The campaign mainly focuses on
unaffordable walwars, a shameful custom, which is
putting enormous financial strain on families,"
says Deputy Women's Affairs Minister Mezhgan
Mustafavi. "But it also includes a fight against
some of our other marital traditions, such as
marrying off girls to settle family feuds -a
so-called 'bad' marriage."
The goal of the
campaign is to improve women's lives and protect
their rights, because ultimately it's the woman in
the arrangement who suffers the consequences,
In the case of
walwar payments, the bride often "starts
her new life in a family struggling under the
burden of debt," Mustafavi says. "Or, in the case
of 'bad' marriages, she is usually treated as an
participation vital The ministry has called
on the country's influential clerics, as well as
media and law-enforcement agencies, to help
promote the campaign.
Some 400 religious
figures from all over the country recently
assembled in Kabul for a meeting organized with
the help of the Hajj and Religious Affairs
Ministry, during which they condemned the
walwar tradition and other long-standing
customs that violate women's rights.
clerics agreed to include lectures on marital
traditions in their mosque sermons, potentially
reaching millions of Afghans throughout the
The popular television station
Tolo agreed to record such sermons and broadcast
them weekly during peak hours.
Afghanistan's deeply conservative society, the
word of clerics carries significant weight and the
Women's Affairs Ministry considers their
participation vital to the success of the
"Many people don't know that
expensive walwars, which effectively mean selling
your daughter, have nothing to do with Islam,"
Mustafavi says. "In fact, it violates both civil
and Shari'a laws."
Afghanistan's law banning violence against women,
selling or buying a person in the context of
marriage is a crime punishable with up to 10
years' imprisonment," Mustafavi says. "Our civil
laws ban any un-Islamic preconditions in
matrimonies. Our Family Code clearly states that
customs like the walwar, bride price, marrying off
girls to settle family scores, or marrying off
girls as a blood price for a victim's family are
against Islam. Therefore, such customs are
dollars Shari'a law does allow for a
potential bride to request money from the groom's
family. While the amount is not fixed, Sharia
rules advise that the amount should be small and
easily affordable to her new family.
clerics even estimate that the amount should not
exceed a few hundred Afghanis, the equivalent of
US$5 or $10.
In reality, however, the
families of many Afghan brides demand that the
groom spend thousands of dollars in walwar
payments and other gifts, including jewelry. In
addition, the groom is required to pay for a
lavish wedding banquet and a string of
estimates that the average Afghan family spends up
to $15,000 in wedding costs.
In the social
sphere, the cost of the dowry and the lavishness
of the wedding parties can affect each family's
social standing. To affirm high status, families
save for years and young men commonly leave home
to endure years of hard labor abroad to raise
Desperate to avoid such costs, some
families that have both sons and daughters marry
off the groom's sister to the bride's brother in
so-called badal marriages, which literally
translates as "exchange".
"The laws to
punish such actions have almost never been
exercised," says Mustafavi. "We have asked
law-enforcement agencies to bring to justice a few
people who violate these laws in order to remind
others that it is a crime to sell your daughter."
Copyright (c) 2012, RFE/RL Inc.
Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free
Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW,
Washington DC 20036
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