Shafiqa was just thirteen years old and she had lots of wishes until a forced marriage destroyed her future. She grew up in a western province with her mother and four older half brothers from her father’s first wife, who had died.
Her father had also died before she was born and her brothers wanted to engage Shafiqa to marry when she was a baby. Her mother delayed marriage until she turned thirteen. About the time she came of age, a forty-three-year-old man named Sakhi was looking for a new young wife and he spoke to her brothers about Shafiqa. He already had a wife and ten children. I have seen him when I go to her neighborhood and visit with Shafiqa. He is very old, with all the children and an angry wife. A lot of times men in Afghanistan marry a second wife because they don’t have sons, but this man has sons and wanted a new young wife to show off his wealth.
When the brothers heard he was looking for a new young wife, they happily told him how they had a sister and they were ready to give her to him, but they needed to get a lot of money for the marriage. Sakhi was pleased and sent his sister to the house. The brothers engaged Shafiqa to the old man for $20,000. It is more money than is usually paid, but the brothers took the money happily and saved nothing for their young sister.
Shafiqa had not yet seen the man. She imagined that her fiancé was a young and handsome person. She thought about how she is young and maybe her fiancé was also young and they would grow up together happily.
Her mother told her to wear a new dress and make herself beautiful because that night her fiancé would come to the house. Shafiqa prepared herself and waited to see her future partner. When he entered the house, she was shocked. She lost her self-control, and sat in silence, unable to talk. He was an old man and Shafiqa was a child. He became very angry and told her that he had given a lot of money to her brothers so she must accept him without question.
Shafiqa told me how she started crying and went to her mother shouting, “Who is he? What did you do with my life? I don’t like him. He is very old.”
Her mother said, “You have to accept him. He is a very rich man. Your life will be changed. He will buy lots of golden things for you and you will become the queen at his house.”
She cried and said, “I don’t want anything. I like being very poor.” They did not listen and they held her wedding party with Sakhi at her home. Because Sakhi still had his first wife, he could not hold a wedding party at his own house, so he asked a mullah to come and marry them without ceremony and then he brought her to his home.
When Shafiqa went to Sakhi’s house, she saw all the children including a daughter who was older than she. She fainted. When she awakened, the first wife came and spoke harshly to her. Then the daughters came and told her that now she was the servant of the house, that now all of them would be queen of the house and Shafiqa would serve them. Shafiqa has not yet had any children but she is now the servant and works for the first wife.
Her future has been lost to her brothers’ greed. She was a young girl with dreams. She wanted a young partner to share her life. She wanted to wear a white dress for her wedding.
Photo: Eric Kanalstein / UNAMA