Marrying Young in Afghanistan


Afghanistan has many traditions that allow families to marry their daughters at young ages without their consent.

For example, there is a tradition in some provinces that allows families to engage two children even before their birth.  Called Naami kardan in Dari, it means to promise the girl to someone.

In some places, families sell their daughters to another family for bride prices ranging from $1000 to $20,000. Families also exchange their young daughters for sons. All of this unfortunately makes child marriage a very successful business.

My neighbor’s story shows how unfair the situation is for girls and young women in Afghanistan.

Our neighbor has six daughters and one son, but the son has a mental problem. Last year, the family wanted to marry their son to a girl from a distant neighborhood, but the bride’s family would not agree to giving their daughter to our neighbor’s son because of his mental disorder.

Instead, the family in the distant neighborhood agreed to give their daughter to the father in my neighbor’s family. In exchange they received our neighbor’s daughter for their own son to marry.

After two years, our neighbor then was able to exchange one of their younger daughters, named Sunam, to another family who gave them a young girl who would marry their son with the mental disorder.

In this country, a girl who is trained in doing the chores, being obedient, and is kept a virgin, can be sold or traded without her consent. She is obliged to leave behind everything: her childhood, her friends, her family, her education.

These young brides miss out on education because once Afghan girls are married, they are not allowed to continue going to school.  The laws don’t allow married girls to continue in school with unmarried girls.

I believe girls should be allowed to marry when they have finished their higher education and can stand on their own feet. Then they can educate their own children to become productive members of society, while continuing their lives as they want. 

In Afghanistan, according to United Nations and UNICEF statistics, 57 percent of Afghan brides are under the age of sixteen, and the mortality rate for women dying in childbirth is very high: 18 percent.

By Arifa

AWWP’s writing on child marriage is being shared with Breakthrough’s campaign, “Nation Against Early Marriage.” Photo: A still from CNN Films’ “Girl Rising.”


  1. Well done and well said, Arifa! I have to be honest: my head hurts with all of that bartering of daughters! I think of the terrible auction block in my nation’s history! Please know that I am very proud of your hard work and the eloquent way that you lift up your voice. Keep writing, Arifa. You are sharing truth and that is a blessed, blessed thing.


  2. Nancy Antle says:

    Arifa — This is a well written, valuable article about the terrible bartering of women. I had no idea about this part of the young marriage problem. Thank you writing about this and for voicing your own opinion on the matter of young women continuing their education. Please keep writing these informative articles! Nancy

  3. Thank you again for sharing this well-informed piece, Arifa! I learned a lot from your hard work and clear, sobering words.

  4. Ann Rowland says:


    Thank you for your eloquent article on wife bartering. I am an English professor in the United States and I often ask my students to read Gayle Rubin’s “The Traffic in Women,” a landmark essay in feminist theory from 1975. My students read it as if it were describing the problems and dynamic of another time. I will make sure they read your essay now as well, so they realize what work for women is yet to be done.

  5. I want to thank you, Arifa for your beautiful and courageous story. It is people like you who will ultimately help our world to see the injustices so many innocent and beautiful women and children suffer. It is a human tragedy, and a slap in the face of our Creator who has made us all creatures of free will, with intelligent minds with the capacities to learn, and create, and contribute with passion and love to our societies, to deny anyone of their full potential to blossom and flourish to their potential as a human being. In your words I found myself thinking of Malala Yousefzai’s words to the United Nations, not so long ago: I speak – not for myself, but for all girls and boys. I raise up my voice – not so that I can shout, but so that those without a voice can be heard. Those who have fought for their rights: Their right to live in peace. Their right to be treated with dignity. Their right to equality of opportunity. Their right to be educated. Dear Friends, on the 9th of October 2012, the Taliban shot me on the left side of my forehead. They shot my friends too. They thought that the bullets would silence us. But they failed. And then, out of that silence came, thousands of voices. The terrorists thought that they would change our aims and stop our ambitions but nothing changed in my life except this: Weakness, fear and hopelessness died. Strength, power and courage was born. I am the same Malala. My ambitions are the same. My hopes are the same. My dreams are the same…Dear sisters and brothers, we realize the importance of light when we see darkness. We realize the importance of our voice when we are silenced. In the same way, when we were in Swat, the north of Pakistan, we realized the importance of pens and books when we saw the guns. The wise saying, “The pen is mightier than sword” was true. The extremists are afraid of books and pens. The power of education frightens them. They are afraid of women. The power of the voice of women frightens them. And that is why they killed 14 innocent medical students in the recent attack in Quetta. And that is why they killed many female teachers and polio workers in Khyber Pukhtoonkhwa and FATA. That is why they are blasting schools every day. Because they were and they are afraid of change, afraid of the equality that we will bring into our society. ..I remember that there was a boy in our school who was asked by a journalist, “Why are the Taliban against education?” He answered very simply. By pointing to his book he said, “A Talib doesn’t know what is written inside this book.” They think that God is a tiny, little conservative being who would send girls to the hell just because of going to school. The terrorists are misusing the name of Islam and Pashtun society for their own personal benefits. Pakistan is peace-loving democratic country. Pashtuns want education for their daughters and sons. And Islam is a religion of peace, humanity and brotherhood. Islam says that it is not only each child’s right to get education, rather it is their duty and responsibility.

    Honourable Secretary General, peace is necessary for education. In many parts of the world especially Pakistan and Afghanistan; terrorism, wars and conflicts stop children to go to their schools. We are really tired of these wars. Women and children are suffering in many parts of the world in many ways. In India, innocent and poor children are victims of child labour. Many schools have been destroyed in Nigeria. People in Afghanistan have been affected by the hurdles of extremism for decades. Young girls have to do domestic child labour and are forced to get married at early age. Poverty, ignorance, injustice, racism and the deprivation of basic rights are the main problems faced by both men and women.

    Dear fellows, today I am focusing on women’s rights and girls’ education because they are suffering the most. There was a time when women social activists asked men to stand up for their rights. But, this time, we will do it by ourselves. I am not telling men to step away from speaking for women’s rights rather I am focusing on women to be independent to fight for themselves. Dear sisters and brothers, now it’s time to speak up.

    So today, we call upon the world leaders to change their strategic policies in favour of peace and prosperity. We call upon the world leaders that all the peace deals must protect women and children’s rights. A deal that goes against the dignity of women and their rights is unacceptable. We call upon all governments to ensure free compulsory education for every child all over the world. We call upon all governments to fight against terrorism and violence, to protect children from brutality and harm. We call upon the developed nations to support the expansion of educational opportunities for girls in the developing world. We call upon all communities to be tolerant – to reject prejudice based on cast, creed, sect, religion or gender. To ensure freedom and equality for women so that they can flourish. We cannot all succeed when half of us are held back. We call upon our sisters around the world to be brave – to embrace the strength within themselves and realize their full potential.


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