My mother works for the United Nation Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, (UNAMA). One day, in March 2006, she came home from Mirwais Hospital in Kandahar Province very upset about a case. I asked her what worried her. “Is it something again about a female?”
“Yes, my dear,” she said. In the hospital was a girl of 13, Shukriya, from Helmand Province, who had tried to commit suicide. “I don’t know what will happen to her next, whether she will stay alive or not.” Shukriya’s mother was with her in the hospital. When my mother asked what had happened, Shukriya’s mother said her daughter had been upset about her marriage a month earlier, but it had been necessary because “we were really poor and in debt… We had no choice.”
From the look in Shukriya’s eyes, my mother thought there was more to the story. “Tell me the truth,” she insisted. Finally, Shukriya told the story below:
“Almost two years ago, I fell in love with my mother’s cousin Zulmay Jaan, son of Aman-ullah. I didn’t know how this all happened; I didn’t even believe in love. But loved him then and I love him still.
“Zulmay often used to visit me at my home. We barely used to talk. We mainly stared at one another. Taking his hand in mine was something impossible then. Having sexual relations was out of the question. I actually never thought of him touching me, but yes, I did dream every night of marrying him, and having our kids.
“Whenever I was in the kitchen, he used make up an excuse to come and see me. One day, I was preparing tea in the kitchen when he came and said: ‘Shukriya Jaan, can I have a glass of water, please?’ I felt his voice right in my heart. I smiled at him and he at me. I gave him the glass of water and he stared at me for a whole minute. Then my mother entered the kitchen and asked him to leave because it was not appropriate for him to stay with me alone. My mother looked strangely at me. I knew she was angry because I stayed in the kitchen while Zulmay was there. I could feel the fear on my mother’s face. I left the kitchen and took the teapot and cups into the other room.
“My mother followed and said: ‘Shukriya come to my room, now.’ I went with her and she said: ‘You are no longer allowed to see Zulmay or come to the room when he is sitting there.’
“I was surprised. ‘But why, Mother? Zulmay told me he loves me and wants to marry me. And that’s good, because that is what I want, too.’
“‘No, my daughter, your dad will never let this happen,’ she said. I didn’t answer and left her room.
“A week later, my dad accepted 400,000 Pakistani rupees (about $4,070 USD) to marry me to Mr. Aziz-ullah on the 19th of February 2006 without asking me. Aziz-ullah was more than 30 years old. He was already married and living with his first wife and three children. Two of his children were dead.
“After my engagement, I never saw Zulmay. I used to think about him, and dream of him at night. During the daytime, I used to wait for him to come and see me, but he never did again. He knew there was no other option except for me to marry this other man.
“After some months, I was married to Aziz-ullah. In my heart, I never accepted him as my husband. But I did used to sleep with him. I was very quiet. He always asked me why was I so quiet. I never told him the reason.
“One day, I tried to commit suicide. I decided to eat needles and nails. I swallowed almost 18 different-sized needles and almost a dozen nails. Unfortunately, I am still alive, and yes, I will try killing myself again and again, because I don’t want to live any more. I am tired.”
Finally, Shukriya’s mother admitted this was the truth, and added that Shukriya’s father’s objection to Shukriya marrying Zulmay was not based on financial need. He didn’t want his daughter to marry someone she loved because then everyone would gossip about it.
In Afghanistan, falling in love can be a crime, and marrying for love is often forbidden.