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Women desperate to divorce are being coerced into new Taliban marriages

By Farshid Aram* 

The life of 14-year-old Fariha* included a childhood marriage, a decade-long effort to get a divorce, and finally, her murder. She was a young child when she married her cousin Shukrullah* in the Almar district of Faryab province. Their marriage was marked by family tensions and disputes, because Shukrullah had only paid 400,000 afghani out of the agreed 700,000 afghani dowry. Additionally, Fariha was constantly beaten by her in-laws. These tensions, especially the financial concerns, compelled Fariha’s family to seek a divorce for her and Shukrullah. That divorce was given on June 22.  

Shortly after the divorce, she was shot and killed. Her brother, Abdul Qahar*, was identified as her killer by their father, Shah Mohammad*. “On this year’s Eid al-Adha, my daughter went to a relative’s house. Some misleading individuals contacted my son, Abdul Qahar, who is addicted and unruly and lives in Iran, accusing my daughter of running away from home,” their father recounts to Zan Times. “Upon hearing this, my son returned from Iran and, on the third night of Eid al-Adha at 1 a.m., shot her in her bed and fled to Iran.” 

Sources close to Fariha’s family also suggest that a reason for her murder is because she was having a romantic relationship with a man named Ahmad, and they intended to marry. However, that could not immediately happen until the three-month waiting period after her divorce was complete. Fariha was killed just 10 days after her divorce.  

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Divorce, which has always been taboo in traditional societies such as Afghanistan, has become even more costly for women, especially after the rise of the Taliban to power. Despite a rise in violence against women since the Taliban takeover, it is nearly impossible for victimized wives to divorce abusive and harassing husbands. Women in Herat, Ghor, Samangan, Faryab, and Sar-e-Pul provinces tell Zan Times that the Taliban won’t allow divorce in cases of husbands’ violence against their wives and that they consider men’s beatings of women to be a normal phenomenon. 

Golmah*, now 13, was seven years old when she was married off according to the local custom of “a girl in exchange for a girl.” Her marriage came about because her brother fell in love with a girl in their village. The girl’s family wanted to marry Golmah to their son in exchange for their daughter to Golmah’s brother. Due to her young age, she lived with her family for another five years. Her husband used that time to pressure her, then, after they began their life together, he physically abused her. Golmah and her family eventually decided that she needed to separate from her husband. “My brother and I initially went to the department of vice and virtue,” she explains to Zan times. “My brother explained that my husband beats me a lot, and I wanted a divorce. The Taliban responded that such issues occur between couples; men sometimes beat their wives, but it’s not so serious to seek a divorce. They advised my brother to resolve the matter among the village elders and advised us to reconcile.” 

Golmah persisted in her efforts to divorce and approached the local Taliban court, but again was denied help. “The Taliban judge told us that sometimes a man gets angry and hits his wife, but that’s not a reason for the woman to get a divorce. He told me that you women also cause a lot of trouble, and they shouldn’t want a divorce for minor disputes. He even told my brother that he should make her sister behave well. There must be something wrong with her since her husband beats her. This is a typical attitude seen in most Taliban courts, especially in the districts,” she says.  

Benafsha, a 27-year-old woman in Sar-e-Pul province, started her quest for a divorce 22 months ago after several years of marriage to a violent man who neglected her and their children. Like Golmah, she was denied a divorce. “I went to the court with my father. My father explained my case to the public rights official and the judge. They asked if we had children, and our answer was positive. They said they would only consider opening a divorce case if my husband was addicted to drugs, unable to provide food and shelter, missing for several years without any news of being alive or dead, or if we couldn’t have children,” explains Benafsha. 

After Benafsha and her father persisted in their efforts to obtain a divorce, the Taliban judge finally stated that such issues should be addressed through village and local leaders, involving village elders, even though they’d gone that route multiple times without any result. Such meetings with tribal and family elders often result in them issuing non-binding recommendations and calls for patience due to the taboo surrounding divorce. As a result, women like Benafsha and Golmah find themselves enduring life with their spouses. 

Sometimes, however, a woman seeking a divorce in a Taliban court is coerced into marrying a member of the Taliban as a condition for ending their original marriages. That happened to Mariam*, when the 30-year-old went to the Taliban court to divorce her husband in the city of Herat in March 2023. She decided to divorce him after he married another woman. As a nurse who worked in a hospital, she had financial independence. “Given my work and educational background, I couldn’t tolerate a husband with two wives. I told my husband that either I should be in your life or your second wife. I even allowed him to divorce his second wife, but he refused,” she explains to Zan Times.  

When Mariam went to the Taliban court in Herat with her elder brother, she faced a situation much more complicated than dealing with a rival wife. “When it was our turn to enter the judge’s chamber for family matters, the judge asked my brother to leave the room so he could speak with me alone. After my brother left, the judge told me I didn’t have grounds for divorce and that it was my husband’s religious right to have up to four wives. But if I promised to marry one of the mujahedeen (Taliban) after getting divorced, he could issue my divorce,” she recounts.  

Regretting her decision to approach the Taliban court, she declined the Taliban judge’s proposal and left the place. She states, “After this encounter, I decided to resolve my issue through tribal and family elders because tolerating a rival in life is better than becoming the wife of a Talib.” 

The same coercive offer was made to Benafsha* in Sar-e-Pol province. “The Taliban not only do not advance women’s cases, but they also consider us sinners from the outset. They even propose to women seeking a divorce that, in return for issuing a divorce verdict, they should promise to marry Taliban officials. One of the Taliban even suggested to me during my frequent court visits that if I accepted his marriage proposal, I could quickly get a divorce” she says.  

For women in Afghanistan, there are no alternative ways to seek help escaping male violence. Following their takeover, the Taliban removed all the institutions that helped women, including the Special Prosecutor for Women, the Directorate of Women’s Affairs, the Women’s Section of the Courts, the Office of Human Rights, and even the special women’s police. This sudden upheaval has trapped women in a life full of domestic violence, especially regarding divorce, which has legalized male violence. 

With few options, women are forced to go to the Taliban courts to get free of their husbands. Even if they obtain a divorce, the results are usually skewed against them as those same judges often impose difficult conditions, mostly designed to favour men.  

*Names have been changed to protect the identity of the interviewees and writer. Farshid Aram is the pseudonym of a journalist in Afghanistan. 

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