By ALISA TANG, Associated Press Writer
Mon Jul 9, 4:19 PM ET
JALALABAD, Afghanistan - Unable to scrounge together the $165 he needed to repay a loan to buy sheep, Nazir Ahmad made good on his debt by selling his 16-year-old daughter to marry the lender's son.
"He gave me nine sheep," Ahmad said, describing his family's woes since taking the loan. "Because of nine sheep, I gave away my daughter." . . .
[G]irls are traded like currency in Afghanistan and forced marriages are common. Antiquated tribal laws authorize the practice known as "bad" in the Afghan language Dari — and girls are used to settle disputes ranging from debts to murder.
Such exchanges bypass the hefty bride price of a traditional betrothal, which can cost upward of $1,000. Roughly two out of five Afghan marriages are forced. . . .
Millions of girls now attend school and women fill jobs in government and media.
There are also signs of change for the better inside the largest tribe in eastern Afghanistan — the deeply conservative Shinwaris.
Shinwari elders from several districts signed a resolution this year outlawing several practices that harm girls and women. These included a ban on using girls to settle so-called blood feuds — when a man commits murder, he must hand over his daughter or sister as a bride for a man in the victim's family. The marriage ostensibly "mixes blood to end the bloodshed." Otherwise, revenge killings often continue between the families for generations. . . .
[The Women and Children Legal Research Foundation] investigated about 500 cases of girls given in marriage to settle blood feuds and found only four or five that ended happily. Much more often, the girl suffered for a crime committed by a male relative. . . . A girl is often beaten and sometimes killed because when the family looks at her, they see the killer. "Because they lost someone, they take it out on her" . . .
Several years ago in nearby Momand Dara district, a taxi driver hit a boy with his car, killing him. The boy's family demanded a girl as compensation, so the driver purchased an 11-year-old named Fawzia from an acquaintance for $5,000 and gave her to the dead boy's relatives . . . Three years ago, Fawzia was shot to death . . . .
The story of Malia and the nine sheep illustrates the suffering of girls forced into such marriages.
Malia listened as her father described how he was held hostage by his lender, Khaliq Mohammad, because he could not come up with the money to pay for the sheep, which Ahmad had sold to free a relative seized because of another of Ahmad's debts.
Ahmad was released only when he agreed to give Malia's hand in marriage to the lender's 18-year-old son. Asked how she felt about it, Malia shook her head and remained silent. Her face then crumpled in anguish and she wiped away tears.
Marriage based on the mutual consent of both the man and the woman marrying based on the wishes and choice of the members of the couple isn't all that old.
Arranged marriages weren't terribly uncommon 150 years ago among European immigrants to the United States, and were common more recently than that in much of Asia, although outright trading of women like chattle as described above has not been common in Europe for a longer time, and probably never really took hold on a widespread basis in the United States (widespread literacy for women also came sooner to the U.S. than in Europe or Asia). In some places, like Afghanistan, arranged marriage remains common.
Afghanistan's model is the real traditional marriage, and I see few reasons to stick up for that institution.