In Afghanistan, marriage is a sentence
Fri, Jul. 12, 2002
  KABUL, Afghanistan - Hundreds of women, anxious to put their newfound freedoms to the test, are flooding the courts with requests to divorce their Taliban husbands. But many are finding their statutory freedoms more illusionary than real.
  Nearly 800 women a day are applying to have their marriages annulled, according to Mohammad Usman, chairman of a legal commission in the capital. And while much has changed since the Taliban were overthrown late last year, this remains a deeply conservative society. So it should come as no surprise that many are unsettled by the idea of a woman starting divorce proceedings.
  In fact, some women who have filed for divorce or annulment have been detained while their cases were examined. A criminal investigation officer acknowledged, "We have imprisoned 12 women who have fled from their homes and say that they were married against their will during the Taliban's rule."
  After their regime fell last November, many Taliban men either vanished abroad or went into hiding at home, leaving their wives with no means of support. Others simply shaved off their beards but continued to practice the Taliban's harsh attitude toward women, ensuring that their wives remained virtual prisoners in their own homes.
  Zulfia says her husband was an intelligence chief with the student militia. She claims she was forced to marry him against her will and taken to live in a refugee camp near Peshawar. She managed to escape and sought refuge in her father's home, only to have her family force her to return to her husband. She is now looking for help to end the marriage.
  "My father sold me to my husband for a lot of money. I want a divorce and I appeal to the human rights commission to help me," she said.
  Her story is not unique. One well-known example is the case of Mullah Radeh Gul, an aide to a Taliban national guard commander, Mullah Qayum Zakir, who wanted to marry a girl from Kapisa province near Kabul. The girl turned his proposal down and was initially supported by her father. But after threats to his life, the father chose to turn his daughter over to her suitor. The woman now lives in grinding poverty in a remote village far from her family.
  "Many women coming to the court have such claims," says Abdul Shukoor, a judge in Kabul's second district court.  "Because we haven't received any decision from the supreme court, we are very careful in this regard," he says.
  The majority of Muslims in Afghanistan are Sunnis who follow Hanafi principles. Under normal circumstances, a woman is not allowed to divorce a man. While courts can make exceptions in cases where it is determined that a woman was forced into a marriage against her will, such rulings are rare.
  Even now, long after the departure of the Taliban, men of power - typically regional warlords - can force families to surrender their daughters to marriage. In some cases, entire families have been forced to flee the country rather than submit.