Afghanistan - Bride price

November 2017

Young men, hard times in Afghanistan. At a road restaurant, eating fried fish. Sarobi, November 2017

Socially, many changes have taken place in Afghanistan since the Taliban regime was forced away 16 years ago. More women are educated and Afghan men are increasingly accepting women to work outside of their homes. But at the same time many traditions are deeply rooted. One of these is asking for a "bride price", not only to apply for a home allowance but also a huge amount of money from the groom-to-be when a daughter is to marry, a sum that sometimes amounts to more than 20,000 USD. This means that underage girls risk getting "sold" to marry by poor families, but also that the life of young men in Afghanistan is very difficult.

"It's so stupid, this tradition, because if the bride price is high, it will be difficult for the man or his family to pay. They may have to borrow the money or he has to go abroad to work to earn the sum to marry, which is quite common, says Arzoo Ferdous, a young woman studying as a psychologist in the capital, Kabul.

"It makes everything very complicated and it's not good. I have decided to never agree with this, she says.

Shaqaiq and Arzoo in a Kabul café. Not only Afghan men are affected.

I meet Arzoo and her friend Shaqaiq at a cafe in Shar-e-Naw, one of the more modern parts of Kabul. Music is playing in the background, boys and girls sit together and talk, drink cappuchino and eat muffins and, of course, surf their cellphones. Very un-Afghan in other words, but there has been a great cultural change in the past ten years, at least in the cities. But still, marriage is something that is largely determined by the families, and how much the bridal price should be.

Happy wedding, well, at least expensive. Photo Studio window, Kabul

"I also think that bride's price is one of the idiotic traditions in Afghanistan," Shaqaiq agrees.
-In the cities it's on its way to disappear. My two cousins married and they had no price, but back in our home province the groom paid for one of my relatives, Shaqaiq says.

-The tradition of paying a price for a bride is common throughout Afghanistan, also among the higher educated classes in the big cities, researcher Faiz Muzhary at the Afghan Analyst Network in Kabul says.
-It is usually agreed together with the dowry, which becomes the property of the bride, but the bride's price is a sum paid to the bride's father or brothers, the male relatives. It varies from a few thousand USD up to maybe 30,000 USD or more, as it may be in the southern parts of Afghanistan. In addition, the costs for the wedding party will be added. That might be another 10,000 USD for the hundreds that are expected to be invited, so everything turns out to be a heavy economic burden for the groom and his family, "researcher Muzhary says.


Faiz Muzhary, Afghanistan Analyst Network, Kabul


The bridal price is determined in negotiations between the families. For a regular family in Afghanistan, where an average income is 500 euros a year, the bridal price is an enormous amount.

"Outside the countryside, a common man can not afford this. But then he can make sure his sister or his sistersare married and with the money earned that way, he can then pay for his own marriage",Faiz Muzhary the researcher says, and continues:
-Or they sell some land and get money or the intended groom goes abroad for three to four years, usually in the Gulf States, Pakistan or Iran. But if they find no good work there that period may take longer or they may get caught in drug abuse, usually opium, and we have many thousands of examples of that.

Surveys show that the tradition of paying a bridal price is a driving force for poor families to marry their underage daughters for money. Three percent of all marriages are with girls under the age of fifteen, although this will if caught render at least two years imprisonment for the father. But the authorities have little power in the very traditional societies of Afghanistan.

-A girl has always the right to refuse a marriage, but still no one is listening to her. They say that "this is the bride price we have decided, he who will marry you is a good person" and so on. The girl is forced to accept but if she continues to refuse, the pressure on her only increases with the next candidate. In some cases she is abused by her brothers and male relatives or as punishment, never gets married, says Faiz Muzhary, the researcher.

-There have been local attempts to bring down the bride price and limit the cost of the wedding, which has been successful. Historically, the times the central government has tried to impose laws, religious leaders have used the traditional sentiments, urged the locals to rebel and the government has been overthrown, Faiz Muzhary of the Afghan Analyst Network says.

Although changes can be seen in the streets of Kabul. Women clad in Burqas are not to be seen that often as before and opinion polls among Afghans show that a majority of the men, now have positive views of girls being able to get education even after the age of 10-11, and more than previously, think women even should have the ability to work outside of their homes.

Education, one of the means to change societies. School in Laghman

Yes, it is better now. Many more women have university degrees and have achieved better positions compared to just a few years ago. And women's attitudes have changed. Now, many want a small and inexpensive but meaningful wedding and then be happy for the rest of their lives, says Arzoo Ferdous, psychology student.


© Lennart Berggren / Axiom Film        November 2017

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