Mahtab, Victim of Forced Marriage

girl and fire

As a young girl, Mahtab’s biggest fear was that her father would force her to marry a man she did not like, as he had done to her sister. Her sister was very unhappy in her marriage. And when Mahtab was eighteen years old her fear was realized.

Her father forced her to marry his friend’s son. He was an illiterate youth and Mahtab didn’t like him at all. She sobbed and begged her father to allow her to continue her education, but he paid no attention and three months later she was married according to the customs and traditions of Afghan society.

Two months after the wedding, the couple started fighting. There was no affection between them and Mahtab was forced to live with an illiterate man who did not understand or care about her feelings. Many times she went to her father and told him that she could not live with this man. But her father blamed her and returned her to her husband.

Mahtab could not bear her life with this husband so she set herself on fire with fuel. She didn’t know that a harder fate than death awaited her. She was saved but a large percentage of her body burned. Her husband then divorced her and married another girl.

She had some plastic surgery, but she never gained back her previous health. She is alive and must now listen to people’s harsh and ugly words. Worst of all, she never achieved her dreams. She was not able to even finish high school, although her dream had been to become a doctor.

Forced marriage is one of Afghanistan’s biggest social problems. Families fail to consider the daughter’s wishes for her own future. This can lead to dangerous consequences for the women forced into these situations, including arguments, divorce, physical abuse, running away from home, self-destruction, and, most horrific of all, self-immolation.

Mahtab’s story is just one of hundreds of similar stories in Afghanistan.

By Zahra M.

Photo: Mohammad Ismail / Reuters


  1. liz titus says:

    Dearest Zahra,

    It was my honor to work with you on this very important essay!

    You relate a tragic story of just one girl, in a place where there are many more.
    Thank you,

  2. This is a heartrending story. It is outrageous that this can happen, and yet it does. Only writing such as yours can help bring awareness and change.

  3. elaine says:

    Thank you for sharing this story. As long as there are women and men who share your views, things will change.

  4. Renata says:

    Dear Zahra,
    How sad this story is! I am thinking about the pain this girl had in her heart to choose death instead life. Well, probably she feels dead even alive because she had all her dreams collapsed by an oppressive society. I hope she can still be happy and that Afghan women can be free from this kind of situation.
    Best wishes,
    Renata- from Brazil.

  5. Dear Zahra,
    I like your stories and although I live so far away I feel somehow represented by them (esp. the one about feminism), although I never had to face the problems that Afghan women face.
    Can you tell me whether forced marriage only concerns women? Do Afghan families pay more attention to their son’s wishes? In many societies with forced marriages this is also a problem for boys as far as I know. How about Afghanistan?

  6. This story is very touching due to the scary thought for me of forced marriage. I understand hat it can be a common thing in a lot of places but, it is tragic. Thank you for sharing.

  7. To be honest, I’d sob and kill myself if I had to go through this. This is horrible. I feel a lot of people take their lives for granted and don’t consider what others go through. Maybe one day they’ll be a complete change. I just hope all this torment ends :(

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