Forced marriages and kidnapping: The escalating challenges facing young women in Afghanistan

Roya Musawi is a journalist, public communicator, and writer with extensive experience in advocacy, and public relations. For the past 8 years, she has served in different national and international organizations in support of human rights, women’s rights, youth and gender equality. Names in this article have been changed to protect sources. TW: discussions of sexual violence and suicide.

Women in Afghanistan have been paying the high price of decades of war in different ways. Some young women lost their breadwinners in the various conflicts, some lost their loved ones and friends, some girls have been deprived of having a father from a small age.

Child or forced marriage is not a new issue in Afghanistan. It has been a historically accepted custom in most parts of the country and families are willingly marrying their underage daughters before 18 years old. The reasons are different: some families do it because of living in poverty, and some do it because of the customs they have been following for decades.

In Afghanistan, there is an amount of money called “Tooyana” or Mahr that the groom's family pays to the bride's family, and the sum varies from community to community across the country. In some parts, the amount can reach thousands of dollars and the family of the groom has to get a loan from relatives to pay the amount to the bride’s family.

After the Taliban took over Afghanistan, the method of child marriage and forced marriage in general is starting to evolve. Nowadays, some Taliban fighters select girls they find attractive, and propose an extremely high amount of money to their families. If they don’t accept, Taliban fighters have used the force and power of weapons. These actions have led women to self harm to escape forced marriage.

Paimana* was 23 years old and living in Sherentagab district of Faryab together with her parents and three siblings. They were surviving by weaving carpets in their village and selling at the markets.

Paimana studied in high school and did not successfully continue her higher education. So, she was helping her mother in weaving the carpets along with her sisters, while her dad was a farmer in the neighbourhood village.

In the last years before the Taliban took over, the security situation in their district had been disrupted. Conflicts have been intensified but after the Taliban took over the situation improved. Paimana used to go to the Bazaar with her mother to get the raw materials for weaving the carpets.

She used to wear her burka while going out in public. One day when she was checking the materials of the carpets in the shops, she uncovered her face. She grabbed the attention of a Talib fighter who was there, and he followed them to their home.

“I noticed a Talib was following us with his motorbike and I told my mother that a Talib is following us. We tried to walk fast and used different ways to get home but he continued till we reached home and that night I could not sleep from fear” said Paimana.

The next day, the door knocked and a group of men and women that were not known to them came in and sat in their house. They asked for Paimana and said that their friend had liked her in the Bazaar.

The family refused because they wanted their girls only to marry within their own tribe. The men came and went many times, and the man who wanted to marry her was a lot older than she was. He already had two other wives in the home and wanted Paimana to be his third wife.

The last time they came to her house, they threatened the family that if they don’t accept quietly, they will get Paimana by force. The family contacted a relative in Mazar-e-Sharif province and during the night left the home and now they are living in a rental home there.

They are worried and hope that the group of men don’t find Paimana’s current address. Her family says many women and girls in their village are forced to marry, with many committing suicide to avoid forced marriage. Some young women did commit suicide in their villages but it was seen as a flaw and blemish for the families, so they hid it and even buried their girls during the night.

Life and surviving was already difficult for them in the village, but it has gotten worse. “I had no other choice except saving my daughters from forced marriage to an old man who is the same age as my husband” Fawzia Paimana’s mother.

Paimana was lucky that she could escape and changing address worked for them, but the case for Hawa* is different and she is living in a nightmare.

Hawa is 21 years old, and moved to Kabul with her family after the Taliban took over one of the local provinces. Her Dad was a former military commander and her brother was a soldier.

They are living in a slum neighbouring Kabul where a Taliban police station is located close to their home. She goes to an embroidery course close to their house and attends one of the Universities. A Talib commander who is head of this station close to their house sent his wife with three to four armed rangers and asked Hawa’s Dad to give their daughter over to them. 

“I can’t accept this situation and marry him. His age is over 50 years old and my sister is 16 years old. He was also telling me 'I will get your sister for one of my soldiers.' I don’t want to be another victim like Elaha” said Hawa.

Elaha is a woman whose video went viral on Twitter after she said that one of the Taliban authorities married her by force and many social media users raised their voices to advocate for justice for Elaha. 

Hawa lost her mother years back and she is the only older daughter in her family who takes care of family affairs. 

“I don’t know what should I do, we have changed our house many times but they spotted and found it again and the guy is saying wherever you go I will find you; we are all under risk” added Hawa.

Hawa and her family can’t sleep and have no peace as everyday the Taliban rangers come to their gate and threaten her that they don’t need her or her father’s permission, and that they can do whatever they want. 

“I will Nikaah [marry] you and your sister,' the Taliban head of the police station told me and I am super under high pressure. We can’t move and change the home every day and we are judged by our relatives too. They even said, ‘I will take your father and brother and whatever happens to them will be on you’” said Hawa.

Batool Haidari, a women right’s activist, highlighted the story of a family in Shahrak Haji Nabi whose daughter was kidnapped by the Taliban. After the Taliban took over, women’s lives have been disrupted, and they are being eliminated from the community. The rate of forced marriage is getting higher day by day. We are seeing forced marriage by the Taliban fighters and commanders without considering the young women’s demands. 

The Taliban cannot control the actions of every single fighter across the country, and there is no coordination on leadership level to control the second or third marriage of the fighters, or prevent forced marriage. 

The destiny and fate of women across the country is unclear. It will not stop until the women and community are able to be educated and the level of extremism reduces.