IWPR, February 20, 2007
A Family Scandal
Elderly men often take young women as their brides - but their families don't always approve.
Fawzia, not her real name, is twenty-one years old, I am twenty-two. So it seems strange to call her "grandmother".
"My wife died, and I became young again!" laughed my 85-year-old grandfather. "There were some old women I could have married, but I wanted a young one. I do not think you can just divide young and old. So I decided to marry a young girl. Now I am very happy."
Fawzia's story is a bit different.
"My father died, and mother had to support two small boys, as well as me. We had no money, so she decided to marry me to this old man. She did not think about me, about my life. She just put my life in the river, where it drifted away."
Roshan Qasem, 11, will joing the household of Said Mohammed, 55, his first wife; their three sons, and their daughter, who is the same age as Roshan.
Ghulan Haider, 11, is to be married to Faiz Mohammed, 40.
Photos: New York Times Magazine
When he announced his wedding, my grandfather thought the family would rejoice. He has ten children with his first wife, seven girls and three boys. My mother is his eldest daughter.
"For such a young girl death would have been better than marriage to an old man," said my mother.
On the wedding day, my grandfather could not hide his joy. He distributed sweets, nuts and raisins to the guests. But only three of his daughters came to the wedding. The rest of his children stayed away.
"Why are you not happy for me?" he asked one of my aunts, who came to the wedding.
"I am trying," she said. "But my heart is not in it. I am so miserable I do not think I will ever be happy again."
When she heard this, Fawzia fainted, and the wedding had to be stopped for a bit.
When she was better, the ceremony continued. My grandfather sat by her, singing to her, and saying "Don't worry, everything will be okay. I will obey all of your commands and I will give you whatever you want."
But Fawzia was not listening to him. She seemed to be in a trance. "This is God’s will," she said. "I have to marry this old man. I would kill myself, but it would bring shame on my family. After all, I am not the only young girl who has been in this situation."
Fawzia is quite right. There are many such cases, and I have seen them with my own eyes. I know a drug smuggler in Lashkar Gah who just married a 15-year-old girl. He is old, maybe 50, and has two other wives. I know that the girl went back to her family, asking them to kill her rather than send he back to her husband. But they made her return, anyway.
If I could get support, I would bring old men who marry young girls to trial. I would stop this shameful practice.
My grandfather is wealthy. He owns a lot of land in Helmand province, and he grows vegetables, not poppy, like so many other people do.
Now it has been a little over a year since the wedding, and Fawzia has changed her tune.
"At first I was very unhappy. But now I have [twin] children, a son and a daughter, and I am very happy with them. My husband is very nice to me, and brings me everything I want. I would not change him for a young man."
But I think she is just trying to put a good face on things. It is shameful to complain about your husband.
When my grandfather is gone, Fawzia will not be able to remarry. In our culture, when a woman's husband dies, she remains in his family. She can marry her husband's brother, or maybe even his father. But my grandfather has no living brothers. Fawzia is now our mother and grandmother - we cannot marry her. She will be a widow forever.
My grandfather does not think of this, though. He is very happy with his new children, and teases his sons, "See, I am stronger than you. I have more children." He says he wants many more children. In fact, he is thinking of marrying again.
"I married a twenty-year-old and am very happy," he told me. "Now I want another one."
IWPR has recently initiated a journalist-training programme in Helmand province. This is the work of one trainee, who wanted his name withheld to protect his family's privacy.
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