PAN, August 3, 2013
Dowry burden unleashes myriad social problems
Two percent of interviewees say high dowry demands force some bridegrooms to take their lives
By Sohaila Weda Khamosh
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.
Wedding dresses. (Photo: Alamy) (Photo: Alamy)
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."
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