A Pretty Toy in My Family’s Hands

Editor’s note: One of our longtime writers agreed to share her story, but only anonymously since few people in her life now know about her past.

I was sixteen years old, attending school and thinking about my future goals to be either a doctor or a journalist. I knew nothing of life, and I had no thought of marrying. One day my uncle, who is a doctor, came to our house and said, “You should not study, because you are a girl. You should get married.” I thought it was a joke because my uncle is a doctor and knew the value of education. I come from an educated family; almost all my relatives were educated. I was polite and said nothing. I got him tea, and then went to do my homework.

The next day, several relatives arrived at our house. I was not aware at first of what was going on, but then I understand they were at my home to buy me. I was such a pretty toy, a pretty toy to play with. The family that was proposing the marriage was discussing my cost with my father. At that time, I did not know I had any right to say I was not for sale.

Finally, they sold me for 6,000 US dollars. This is when my life problems started. My fiancé was uneducated and he forbade me to go to school. After one year, when I was seventeen, my husband divorced me, but I was already pregnant.

My baby arrived prematurely. The night he was born, I nearly died. It was a very bad night. All the doctors were working to save me and my child. My body was in a lot of pain, and I had no information about becoming a mother. When the midwife handed me my newborn, I remember she said, “You are still a child. Why do you want to give birth to another child?”

After the birth, my ex-husband took my son and left me with nothing. Here again, I did not have information. What should I do? I didn’t know. There was nobody to tell me, “It’s your right to take care of your own child.” Again, my family played with me.

After one year, I began to work and started my new life. I understood the things that were done to me were completely wrong. But I didn’t fully feel my anger. I worked in my province for four years. Then I decided to continue my education, and I asked my office to transfer me to another province, because in my province it was not possible for me to study.

I moved and began school. And one day, our teacher was giving a lecture about psychology. He was talking about marriage and he said that in Afghanistan, some parents do not think about the health of their daughters; they try to get them started on married life early, so girls who are sixteen years old get pregnant, and in this way they become ill or even lose their lives, and the life of the children is also difficult, often filled with illness, when they are born to a mother so young.

In my class, nobody knows about my past. I have told them nothing because it is Afghanistan and if they knew what happened, they would not respect me. If they knew, I would have to suffer as I did in my home province, where they called me “the divorced woman.” But during this lesson, I went back into my past and thought about what had happened to me when I was a child and knew nothing.

When I think about it now, I get too angry. At one point, I felt hatred toward my family because they had treated my life like a pretty toy. I was without information, but the elders had to know I was not ready to get married. They played with me and my life, and I had to respect their decisions even when those decisions were against my own future.

I wanted to fight their choices for me, but I was without knowledge, and so the problems from my past life remain with me until today. But now, I have a dream to start a program for women to let them know about these problems. I want to save other women. I hope those who read this story would help me continue on this job to teach young girls in the far-away districts of Afghanistan about their rights. I want all women to come with me and support me in this goal.

By Anonymous

photo by Nomadic f-stops


  1. Sahar Omar says:

    Dearest Afghan sister Salaam:

    My name is Sahar and I live in U.S. I red your story. To many people, this story might be a sad or tragic story, but for me it a story of courage and success. You might ask, what success? to me to over come your dream of being educated and to do it in a such hard and difficult situation is a success. I left afghanistan in 1992. Then, I went back there in 1993 and escaped to Pakistan. After that, I did go there few times. I have seen the worst in Afghanistan. I was raised in war and had a dream like you to become a doctor or a teacher. But the situation was so bad that going to school wasn’t possible. Because, all the schools were closed. Then we had to escape our beloved mother land to save our lives! I’m here today. Safe from the war! But I couldn’t become a doctor or a teacher! What I mean is that you are not alone in this! Doesn’t matter where we live as Afghans, we all have similar stories. We all try to do our best to reach our goals at what ever situations. It is okay if we didn’t become a doctor or a teacher to help others. We do help others by sharing our stories and encouraging each other to be strong and to do our bests. And it doesn’t matter where we live!!! we can reach each other from far away and help each other in any ways possible. I’m so proud of you for knowing your rights!!! remember that you didn’t chose to marry him, your family did. You didn’t chose to leave him, he did. And you didn’t chose to give your child to him, he took him from you. But what you chose to do was to stand on your own feet and follow your dreams and to work hard for it. I’m not going to tell you to forget your past, cause that is what made you to be strong and determined. But I would like to tell you that don’t look back! look forward to your life and don’t lose HOPE!

    Your sister from U.S

  2. Stacy Parker Le Melle says:

    I agree: your story is a story of courage and success! Thank you for telling us about your life, what you’ve gone through, and where you’re going. Sending you many prayers and good thoughts–you *will* help and teach other women (and men, too!). Though I have not lived your life circumstances, I can feel that distinct pain of knowing that someone who has control or influence over your life is not acting in your best interest. It is a deeply painful feeling. Again, sending you good wishes for a loving, creative and peaceful year ahead! Stacy

  3. Stacy Parker Le Melle says:

    It is hard to stop thinking about the night you delivered, what you went through, and the child you were forced to give up. You are very strong to have survived this. I have to think that it will take a long time to heal. But I am hoping and praying that, day by day, you will. Sending prayers up for you, for your child, and for your family.

  4. This story is the fact of life for most of Afghan women. I have friends who suffered from the same sort of problems and I totally understand this from the depth of my heart. while I was reading your life story, once again i cried for my best friend that she is still suffering from this situation. she wants to study but she can’t because she is mother now and has to take care of her child. I am proud of you ,that you were brave enough to find the way to success in your life. I am one of those young Afghan women, who wants to stop this stories happen again and be the educator and the voice for silence. you are not alone I strongly support your cause and work toward it. Thanks for sharing this story, it give the courage and hope that I am not alone to fight for injustice.

  5. Cecilia Warren says:

    I think it’s amazing that you managed to survive that. Please, for women everywhere, get angry, keep strong, and continue with your education! I’ve been blessed with a loving family and an amazing opprotunity for education, and I think learning is one of the most precious experiences one can have.

    I admire and respect you greatly.

  6. Zainab Yousofi says:

    As a girl I am very proud of you. Taking stand against the difficulties of life shows your greatness. One day your child will come to you and recognize his/her mother. I am happy that you have not given up your studies. We as Afghan women need to fight against all violence by our education and hope. You are strong and keep it up.

  7. Elisabeth Lehr says:

    I can only imagine how difficult your memories must be for you. But you are a strong, very intelligent woman. Stay focused on your goals to help your sisters. They need you.

  8. Fariba says:

    How to tell you that what a brave, strong and patient woman you are. You are a model for those Afghan women who have the same experience as you but withdraw to struggle but you did and achieved your goal.

  9. Thanks so much for sharing your story. PRAY! ♥

  10. It is chilling and effective when you say, “I was such a pretty toy, a pretty toy to play with.” And again when you write, “they treated my life like a pretty toy.” Strong words, they make a strong impact. Strong words, from a strong woman. Well done!

  11. Mary Ellen Mangas says:

    You are, indeed, a very strong woman far before you should have had to be. You have survied
    so much pain in your very short life. Keep learning and continuing your education. Your
    writing can only help improve life for you and your sisters. Continued success and I will be
    praying for you. THANK YOU for sharing your story!

  12. Your words are powerful. Through tragedy and your obvious intelligence you are building a strong voice for the future and many of your countrywomen will benefit from it. Let us know how we can support you and don’t give up.

  13. What a wonderful story of strength and courage. I believe that it is through hardship that brings out these qualities and also the beauty of one’s soul. Continue and remain steadfast. You are in the prayers of many..

  14. Your strength and determination are clear, and you still have a long life ahead of you in which to do much good for your sisters there. I wish you the best, for your education, your peace and happiness. Many women around the world care deeply about the women of Afghanistan, and I hope you know that you are in the thoughts and prayers of many of your sisters abroad. how can we help you and the women of your country?

  15. Erin Todd says:

    To echo a previous commenter, “Many women around the world care deeply about the women of Afghanistan,” and we wish there was more we could do to help. Your dream to reach out to the girls and women of Afghanistan is very worthy and courageous! While I cannot possibly know everything you have experienced, I too became a mother very young, I too was pressured into marriage very young. Because I live in the U.S., I was not sold by my family, my child was not taken away from me … your memories of these events are surely very painful. But, as others have encouraged you to look forward, I too send thoughts of encouragement and strength to you. Wishing and hoping for your dream to become reality!

  16. Barbara Field says:

    What a powerful story! You will make a difference to other women and I salute your strength and determination.

  17. I love your bravery and I wish you joy and fulfilment for the future. Thank you and Bless.

  18. You are a brave and determined woman, and I wish you Godspeed in your quest to help others. You have decided to turn your tragedy into working for others, and that will give your life incredible meaning.
    Best of luck!!

  19. Dear, I do agree with Sahar … It IS a story of courage and success! Perhaps you did not reach the goal of becoming a doctor or a jornalist, but it did not stop you to have other roles in life, as or even more important as the original ones. You see all the life experience you got! Bcz you lived all of that, today you can understand how other women feel and think and live immersed in the same situations and dont know how to set them free of their suffering. You can reach them, you can show that it is possible to to overcome challenges bcz you have walked through similar path. You are a WINNER! You MUST be very proud of you. Your story is remarkable, a remarkable inspiration to all of us. I do feel so sorry for the injustices you had to face. Do not blame yourself for not knowing things that could prevent you to be exposed to those injustices. See that by being so young and living in a culture that would not let you make your own choices there was not really a way for you to protect yourself of all those events. However, remember that in spite everything you have lived which were so harsh, you are a survival! Thank you so much for sharing your story. It is a story of a brave woman and again I must say a winner! Never ever underestimate your power within. You have everything inside you to get what you want. You will, I am pretty sure! Allah bless you for your braveness and sensibility!

  20. Brittany says:

    I absolutely loved reading this well written story about your life experiences. Even though this story started out to be very sad and depressing, I really like how you are able to overcome the tragedies that you have faced and become successful. I am very glad to hear that you were able to go back to school and become a journalist like you had wished for whenever you were younger. It sounds like you have become more known from your successes in life than as “the divorced women” you were referred to in your home province. I wish the best of luck to you with starting to program to help educate Afghan women about the problems they are faced with. I think a program like that could really help women living in Afghanistan who are unaware of the freedoms that they should possess.

  21. Dear Wise Woman,
    I love that you have written your story and shared it with the world. Your story will also speak for others and you are brave to write it.
    I love the wisdom that you show in being able to separate what has happened to you in such an unjust way, from who you are. And I love that you have plans to use your experience to improve the lives of others.
    I think many people in the rest of the world could learn a lot from the strength of the women of Afghanistan!
    Thank you and all the best for your life plans.

  22. Your story is one of incredible sadness, but also of admirable courage and strength. I cannot begin to imagine the feelings and memories you carry with you from these experiences, and how terrifying your teenage life must have been. I hate that you suffer in silence, but am encouraged by the fact that, despite the hand you were dealt, you persevere and are fighting to ensure that others who, as you put it, are “without knowledge” can find hope and encouragement in your story. You want to save other women, and this speaks volumes to your heart and spirit.
    Ryan S.

  23. Thanks for sharing your story. Even though they took your baby away, they cannot take your motherhood away. You will always be that child’s mother. No one can take that from you, or from your son.

  24. Dear Salaam
    I really appreciate your willingness to share your life story with the rest of the world. As a child you were forced to give up in your dreams, but you have manage to survive it. You have everything inside you to get what you want, and I’m glad you went back to school to finish what you started. Allah blesses you for your courage. You have survived so much pain, and I appreciate your willingness to tell your story to ensure that others who, as you put it, are without enough knowledge, can find hope and encouragement in your story. This can help the rest of the world learn a lot from the strength of the women of Afghanistan.

  25. Perez Knowles says:

    Although this story is sad, it is an eye opener for how strong the Afghan women are. You, in particular, learned without even being educated on how society works. As a guy I think it is just awful the way many women in your society are treated, because without educated women, how are men supposed to get another view on a topic without seeing both sides of things. You are strong because you didn’t give up on the baby you had, and you are even stronger because instead of trying to get back at everyone that caused you harm, and pain, you learned to just move on and educate yourself. That takes a strong minded person to take those actions. So, I applaud you for advancing through your stages in life without trying to get pay back, but instead getting an education to help others in your situation. I will keep you and all your Afghan sisters in my prayers. All the best!

  26. Chelsey says:

    Your story was very touching! I’ve heard stories before about women getting sold off to men, but I thought that was outdated. To hear that it is still happening makes me feel sick to my stomach. I can’t imagine how you must have felt during this time. It would make me feel like less of a human to have a price attached to me. My mother has always expressed that love is worth way more than money so I’m sure you have resentment toward your family for this. They should have never abandoned you. Even after you were sold you couldn’t feel loved because of the way your husband treated you and left you with nothing. It is very tragic and cruel. You are a stronger person because of your experiences. You are an inspiration to many women around the world who have been stripped of their rights. They can look at your story and realize that they deserve to be who they want to be in life.

  27. James Creel says:

    When reading your story, it made me feel an immense amount of compassion for you. Although I’ve experienced hardships, I haven’t had any experiences nearly this awful. I loved how in the story you wrote about how the description of your story made you feel and added the element of feeling to the writing, versus just narrating the experience to the reader and not making the reader feel anything. The description of the experience added another element to the writing and made the experience more relatable because the description of the experience put an emotion in the writing that many people can feel and relate to. The sadness of when you were in the class and couldn’t tell anyone that you were sixteen and pregnant sounded like pure torture that no one should have to endure. Being in a scenario where you are something that no one in the country likes because it brings shame upon your family and have to hide it shows incredible strength on your part. I found that to be very touching because it made me feel a sense of empathy for you. The emotional toll that you went through must have been worse than any form of torture imaginable because emotional pain isn’t a pain that can go away with the use of a bandage; it takes a long time to heal. I feel so sorry for you and pray that it will only get better.

  28. Thank you for your courage and for sharing your story. You are indeed still your son’s mother, and you always will be. And in your courage and your determination to continue your education and to work for a better Afghanistan, you are giving your son a precious gift: a future brighter than your own past. I think that this is what all good parents wish for their children – and you are doing more than just wishing for that brighter future. You are actively working to build it. Your story is truly one of success rising from the ashes of sadness. I wish you peace, and will keep you and your son in my prayers.

  29. My dear Afghani sister,
    You have undergone so many losses in your short life and have quickly learned the truth about being a woman: that no one gives us rights. We must learn to join together to take them for ourselves. I hope you have come to recognize how much strength you have in you – enough to persevere and to keep reaching for your dreams. I wish that I could take you and the other wonderful brave sisters into my home as much as I have taken you into my heart. If you ever find your way to the United States, you have a sister here.


  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by KC. KC said: #Afghan Women's Writing Project: A Pretty Toy in My Family’s Hands http://ow.ly/3AoyE via @AWWProject […]

  2. […] woman, who choose to remain anonymous, wrote about her forced marriage.  Her husband divorced her when she was seventeen and took their son with him. […]

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