When my mother was twelve years old, she knew a lonely girl about the same age named Masooma who was her neighbor. This is her story.

Masooma was an orphan. Her father died during the war before she was born and after some time her mother realized she could not make it on her own. So she remarried, leaving Masooma alone.

When she was twelve, Masooma was working in a cruel woman’s house as a servant. At that time her biggest wish was to have her parents with her. She was alone, with no hope of enjoying life. She had no one to advise her, encourage her, love her, or help her. She had no time to think about learning—she just wanted to get enough food to survive.

Every morning the woman woke her up early to get the cows and sheep to the mountains for grazing. She had no lunch, and for dinner she was given a small piece of bread and a tomato. Having a piece of meat one day was like a miracle. She walked an hour to the valley each way to wash the dishes and clothes. Winter was the hardest. Her fingers turned black and she lost her fingernails in the freezing weather. She had no time to wash her hair or clean herself up. She had only one dress for five years. She passed the time with problem after problem.

After four years, to escape the woman she married a 21-year-old man named Zaeer. But things got worse. He was illiterate and worked with his father on their farm. He treated Masooma as his servant and she had to work even harder than before.

I know Masooma is not the only girl who faces such problems in Afghanistan. Some of our cultural customs have destroyed many women’s lives. Part of the problem is that in Afghanistan it is a tradition that the boy’s family gives a huge amount of money to the girl’s family in order to give permission for the marriage. But in reality it is as though the boy has bought the girl. This causes many problems.

Because of the money Masooma’s husband used to buy her, he felt he could treat her like his slave. He thought because he bought her, he could do with her anything he wanted.

I think in Afghanistan, the only solution to this is to discourage cultural habits that have bad effects on society. Culture keeps women from defending themselves. A group came to our school this year and as part of a lecture giving students and teachers information about human rights and government, they told us a girl should marry at the age of 15!

Instead of giving the children some good advice, they led them into the darkness. Let’s join together and stop early marriages to rescue the next generation from this huge hole.

By Alia, age 15

Photo by Phil Borges.