Thursday, June 07, 2007

Baby Husband

One often hears about girls being married off at a young age, but here's a situation in which a woman was married to a three-year old boy.
The case of a woman whose "husband" is a six-year-old child highlights the problems of childhood betrothals in Afghanistan. Gulghoti is a beautiful young woman of 25. Her dark eyes soften, then fill with tears as she looks at Hekmat, a quiet, skinny six-year-old who lives with her.

"I have brought him up since he was three," she said, her voice breaking. "I even used to feed him." The boy is not her child, her brother, or even her stepson. He is her husband. "My life is just one big problem," she said. "Please tell other people not to do this."

Six years ago, Gulghoti, who lives in southern Helmand province, married a young man to whom she had been betrothed since they were both children. Once the parents had agreed on the match and the terms, the deal was almost impossible to break, even after her fiancé was seriously injured in an accident. Her father died when she was young, and her widowed mother did not have the means to resist pressure to honour the contract. Gulghoti duly married her disabled fiance when she was 19, but he died after a year, leaving her a widow.

According to custom in this predominantly Pashtun region, once a woman marries, she remains more or less the property of her husband's family. If she is widowed, she will commonly be married off to a relative of her deceased husband.

"I had to obey these rules, and marry my husband’s younger brother," said Gulghoti. This happened despite the fact that Hekmat was only three at the time. "They forced me to marry this baby," she said. "By the time he reaches adolescence, I will be an old woman."

Hekmat does not understand that the woman who bathes him, looks after him, and prepares his meals is actually his wife. He calls her "khala" - "auntie". He is small and shy, and shrinks away from strangers. He does not attend school – no one in his family is literate.

In Afghanistan, parents sometimes betroth their children almost as soon as they are born. There are cases of 10-day-old children being engaged or even married to each other, despite legal and religious prohibitions against underage marriages. In most deals, a significant amount of money changes hands. The groom's family provides a bride-price, along with gifts of clothing, jewellery, sometimes livestock. The transaction makes it difficult to renege on the contract later on.

The custom is dying out in certain parts of the country, but there are still many instances where people such as Gulghoti and Hekmat are caught in a situation they cannot control. "I will never be happy," said Gulghoti. "I will never be a real wife."

The young woman lives in her husband's home, as is customary, and trembles with fear that he father-in-law might hear that she has spoken to a reporter. "But please give my message to others," she begged. "Tell parents not to arrange marriages for their children when they are babies. It only leads to this kind of catastrophe." [RJ - Paragraph breaks added for easier reading]

Marriage of Inconvenience from Sanjar


Mike said...

But wait, aren't our soldier fighting and dying in Afghanistan to bring "freedom" to women and girls? That's what Don cherry and the other CPC cheerleaders tell me.

Could it be that we are supporting a government that is hardly better than the one it replaced?

Gawd, does that sound familiar.

TomCat said...

"Bringing freedom" was a tertiary reason, if at all. The first reason is to build a pipeline from the Black Sea to Karachi, a project in which the Bush family is heavily invested and is also the reason we installed a former Unocal employee as their President. The second was to get at Al Qaeda, but we abandoned it.

On the marriage, I'm shaking my head in disbelief. :-(

two crows said...

as tragic as her situation is, there are cultures in the middle east where Gulghoti might have been killed or forced to commit suicide upon the death of her husband.

this article once again points up the reasons why womens' rights around the world must begin to be addressed.
such practices have been going on for thousands of years.

ancient Greece, which our country holds in such high esteem for it's democracy was a democracy for it's male citizens only. women were virtual slaves-- being sold by their fathers to their husbands as soon as they reached puberty.
even at that, they were lucky to be alive. the father had sole discretion as to whether any newborn was allowed to live. generally, boys were accepted into the family and girls were routinely abandoned to die.

misogynism has a long history.

Red Jenny said...

I was nervous posting this, because I didn't want there to be a lotta westerners coming by proclaiming our superiority. My intention was never to say anything like: "what savages over there", but to highlight the complexities of women's lives around the world. I think this story really illustrates the intersection of various forms of oppression. In Afghanistan you have the clash of local tradition with imported modernity intensified because of years of invasion and occupation, you have the oppression of women qua women - it's very complex.

TomCat said...

The case you uncovered was extreme. I think we in the west have too far to go in the quest for equality for women to throw stones.

In the 1970s, I promoted a women to the post of Sales Manager in a small business I owned. Three of my five male sales reps quit.