The costs of marriage is one of the root causes for social conflict and family disputes in Afghanistan. Accordingly, the Sanayee Development Organization (SDO), a member of the Global Coalition for Conflict Transformation, is working to decrease excessive dowries through its peacebuilding and conflict transformation program.
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By Khalid Rahman
Wedding ceremonies vary from one region to another, where the groom’s family has to bear all the marriage costs; a considerable financial burden. This is currently one of the root causes for social conflict and family disputes in Afghanistan. Marriage cost includes dowry (the bride’s price), payment on engagement, a lavish celebration of the marriage, along with pre-marriage celebrations (Hina night celebration, New Year’s celebration, Eid celebration, post marriage celebration and other minor celebrations)
Sanayee Development Organization (SDO), an Afghan registered NGO, working for peace in Afghanistan since 1990, has carried out a survey in Herat and Balkh province to find out the cost of weddings and their effects on social and family disputes in the aforementioned regions.
According to the survey, the range of dowries varies between ($4,000 and $11,000); payment on engagement varies between $500 and $2,000; marriage celebration varies between $4,000 and $15,000 and pre-marriage celebration costs from $1,500 to $5,000. The total minimum average wedding cost in Herat and Mazar is $10,000 and the maximum average is $33,000.
Given the income levels of local people in Herat and Balkh Provinces, this amount is enormous; creating serious social problems for the family of the groom, as well as that of the bride. Many Afghans believe the more money spent on their daughter’s wedding, the more valuable their daughters are regarded. SDO, however, believes the opposite is the case. High marriage cost force some bridegrooms to take their lives, and the implications are myriad.
We have identified several victims of this evil custom. In western Herat Province of Afghanistan, a 16-year old girl who avoids mentioning her name was engaged to her cousin, Shafiq. Shafiq’s family after 6 months of engagement asked for a wedding, and the girl’s father asked for 800,000 Afs (roughly $16,000) as a wedding dowry to be paid before the wedding. Shafiq’s family paid a portion of the amount. In order to pay the rest of the dowry, however, Shafiq had to leave for Iran to work as a labourer.
After eight months Shafiq arranged the remaining amount and returned with dreams of getting married. The girl’s father rejected the promised amount and asked for $20,000, as he had spent the extra amount on the girl’s illness during the eight months. Shafiq had no choice but to leave for Iran again, and after days of searching for labour work, Shafiq has been employed in building construction. Tragically, Shafiq fell from the fourth floor and lost his life. Now Shafiq’s family are asking for the paid amount to be returned, but the girl’s father rejected to pay the amount. The case is still disputed between the two families.
Another case happened in northern Balkh Province, where a man named Ahmad, now 42 years-old, was engaged at 27, and paid a dowry of $6,000. Ahmad worked as a waiter in a local restaurant at the time and was paying the wages earned in installments. The father in law’s condition for marriage was the full payment of the amount set. Besides paying the dowry he had extra expenses during the engagement for celebration of Eid, New Year and other minor celebrations. These expenses were unaffordable for Ahmad, therefore, he was always taunted as incompetent for marriage by his in laws.
In order to manage the above expenses, Ahmad decided to leave to Iran. After five years of working he had been deported from Iran, while he had $3,000 in saving, since he had to pay for each year’s minor celebrations. Again Ahmad was taunted by his father-in-law – “you are a man who could not manage $6,000 in 6 years”. Ahmad had no choice but to work in a local restaurant. Finally, after 12 year of engagement, Ahmad got married at 39, but with various family problems. Ahmad is now 42 years, a father of three children, where he has to still pay his loans. “If I could get married earlier there would have not been many serious family problems, neither my lender would knock my door and nor my father in low was like my enemy now, I don’t allow my wife to go to his father house accept for once in a year”, said Ahmad.
Considering the above cases, there are thousands of untold stories about this evil tradition which causes various social problems, both individually and socially. The problems vary from drug addiction, family disputes, tribal disputes, death and many others.
Sanayee Development Organization (SDO) identified excessive dowry as the root cause of social disputes and conflicts. Therefore, SDO has taken the initiative to decrease excessive dowry through its peacebuilding and conflict transformation program.