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Malalai's Forced Marriage

This is the condensed version of the original story that was written by my Afghan son, Fazilhaq

Everybody was shouting for help as the fire flames danced in the dark night. The fire changed the happy ceremony to a sad one. The women who were singing wedding songs were left to scream and mourn. Their loud cries woke my family and our sleepy neighbors. Everyone went to check what had happened. By the time we got there, the fire was killed. The burnt body of the young bride lay on the floor. The wedding car which was decorated with flowers and ornaments took the girl to the hospital.

I came home and my mom told me, "Malalai disagreed to marry this man who was almost as old as her grandfather. She would rather commit suicide then lie with that old man." She continued, “Gull Bibi is her mother and a friend of mine. She's a really nice woman, but her husband isn't. He’s very greedy and loves money and would do anything for it. She told me just three days ago that their daughter warned him that she would kill herself if she had to marry that man. Poor Malalai!"

The next day, the funeral prayer time was announced from the mosque's loudspeaker. The coffin was taken on the shoulders of those who came to celebrate her wedding ceremony. Malalai’s mother chased the car that held her daughter's coffin down the unpaved streets of Sar-e-pul. She screamed, “Please don't take her away. Please don't put her in the grave. Please don't. She's my child. Please don't take her away…….”

It was almost dinner time. For three days, meals are brought to the family by relatives or neighbors. My mom prepared dinner and told me to take it to Malalai's family. I entered the house and gave the meal to one of the family members. Inside the house, I saw Gull Bibi sitting in the corner leaning against the mud walls. I saw her red eyes. She had no more tears.

Seven days after Malalai’s death, Gull Bibi came to our house to see if her daughter had borrowed anything from us or owed us anything. My mom quickly answered her question, "No, No, Gull Bibi sister. Malalai was like my own daughter. She doesn’t owe anything to me."

Aunt Gull Bibi requested me to write a list of the things that her daughter owed to some people. "Look my son Fazilhaq, I asked almost all the people who knew my daughter if she owed anything to them. I told them I would pay them for it, but nobody is ready to tell me. They say that they've forgiven her. I remember some of the things. Could you please note them in a list?" She started, "Once when she was four years old, she took 2 Afghanis from her uncle's wallet without informing him. It sounds like stealing. Let's call it ‘stole’ - so she stole 2 Afghanis from her uncle's wallet to buy herself 2 lollypops. Whenever I see another child chewing a lollypop, I remember Malalai. How can I forget her while her memories are stuck with me in every moment of my life? I can't forget her! I can't forget her!"

As I looked at her weak, old and wrinkled face, I saw big drops of tears falling from her wrinkled eyes. She couldn’t stop this rain of tears falling from her eyes. My mom tried to comfort her. A few seconds later she started again, "When she was five years old, she didn't have sandals. Her old ones were torn and not useable. She used to cry when she walked barefoot on the cold earth." Gull Bibi dried her eyes, "so our neighbor who died two years ago brought her a pair of sandals. I think it cost him 20 Afghanis at that time. Since our nice neighbor is no longer alive, I'll pay his son." She cried mournfully again.

Consequently, she became angry, "It was all because of her father, my husband, Zalmai Khan. I told him that our daughter doesn't want to marry this man, he didn’t listen. He was too greedy. Saifuddin offered him a huge dowry. Malalai was 16 and he's 62 years old. She told us she would kill herself if she was forced to marry that old man. But my husband threatened to cut her tongue and told her she was shameless and disrespectful.”

Gull Bibi continued, “Malalai didn't speak another word for an hour. She just cried. He said that my Malalai was Bihaya. Is it being shameless when you tell your parents that the decisions they make for you are wrong? He said 'study, knowledge and education don't fit our society' How can they fit our society while we've closed all our doors toward it?”
After hearing this sorrowful story, we all cried - me, my two sisters, my mom and aunt Gull Bibi. This story filled our hearts with sadness. Gull Bibi mumbled, "Sorry, instead of telling you the things she owed. I told you the whole painful story… How much money do I owe so far?"

"It's ok that you told us this. She owed 2 Afghanis for the lollypops, 20 Afghanis for the sandals and 60 Afghanis for the Eid clothes. The total is 82 Afghanis.” I said.

Something came to her mind and she turned to my mom. "Look my dear sister; we have to stop all these forced and arranged marriages. Don't let your daughters go into a situation like this. Whenever someone comes to my home to show sympathy, I have the same advice for him or her. I don't want the same thing to happen to another girl like my Malalai."
She was quiet for a while and dried her eyes, but suddenly she remembered something else to add to the list. She looked at me and said, "My son Fazilhaq, since she killed herself on her own wedding night in her in-laws' house, she also owes something to them."

I replied with a shocking gesture, "She didn't spend one night there and didn't touch a thing in their house so what does she owe them?"

She replied with tears growing in her eyes, "Could you also add the money for the gasoline which she used to burn herself to death?"

This story was written for World Pulse’s Ending Violence Against Women Digital Action Campaign.

World Pulse believes that women's stories, recommendations, and collective rising leadership can—and will—bring an end to gender-based violence. The EVAW Campaign elicits powerful content from women on the ground, strengthens their confidence as vocal grassroots leaders, and ensures that influencers and powerful institutions hear their stories.
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Sharontina's picture

Very touching

Dear friend,

This is very touching and thought provoking. Thousands of such incidents keep happening around the world everyday. But to see it positively i would say just like Malalai's mom every mother would take a decision to be careful in not loosing another life or fall victim to another incident like this. That is the change we need. If not now, when?

Lets pray for all the mothers who are put down with this burden and pain which is no more bearable and certainly needs a counteraction. Thanks for sharing.


Merlin Sharontina

Kara-Amena's picture

Turning the tide

Thank you for your note, Sharontina. Fortunately most of the young Afghans I know have parents who would not force them into an unwanted marriage. But it's still a pervasive problem there. Because it's a patriarchal society, many decisions by Afghan mothers are overruled by their husbands and brothers. I've always believed that if we want to advance women's rights, we need to engage the men. The tide is turning. Let's hope it continues.

binapatel33's picture

Malalai's Forced Marriage

Wow thank you for sharing this story. This is so very sad. How does Zalmi Khan feel now that his daughter is dead. Does he care that he forced her into ending her life? He should be held accountable for her death. Also, the in laws do not deserve anything. The marriage never occurred so you don't owe anything. Mothers need to stand up to their husbands. Women in this village need to come together and fight your husbands because you are going to lose your kids. These kids are the future generation and should not be forced to marry older men. I know in the Eastern world that this is common, but in order to change the mindsets of men, women need to come together and create a powerful group. Best of luck please keep us posted.

Kind Regards,
Bina Patel
hc Mediate, LLC

Kara-Amena's picture

Changing mindsets

Thank you Bina! I agree, it's all about changing the mindsets of men - especially in a patriarchal culture like Afghanistan. It is happening little-by-little and day-by-day. I hope this and other problems will be eliminated in my lifetime. It's a dream I hold dearly.

binapatel33's picture

Changing mindsets

I agree too. We have to change these traditional mindsets and sometimes I think that because males are threatened by females (our emotional and physical strength) that they initially set these rules and then used religion to justify them. Of course we know that God is unbiased but we have to change mens' minds....take care and I wish you the best. do you celebrate Aid or Navratri? In any case, I wish you the best.

Kind Regards,
Bina Patel
hc Mediate, LLC

Wendyiscalm's picture

You have an amazing son

You have an amazing son, lucky to have inherited your compassionate and passionate genes. The story is terrible but it is well written. A story it will take days for me to put out of my mind.

Ubuntu (I am who I am because of who we are together)

Wendy Stebbuns

Wendy Stebbins
I AM ONE IN A MILLION Non-Profit Organization focused on helping street orphans and vulnerable children in Livingstone, Zambia Africa.

Kara-Amena's picture

Thanks Wendy

Welcome back, Wendy! I will send you a message in a minute. Fazil is an amazing son - but he does not share my genes. I have three sons by birth and four by blessings - well they are all blessings! Fazil inherited his compassion from his amazing biological mom, Shahnaz, who before dying from cancer gave Fazil the responsibility to make sure that his four younger sisters were never be forced into marriages. It's a responsibility he takes seriously and is not without its challenges. I'm thankful for young men like Fazil who will defend and protect the rights of women in Afghanistan.

sallysmithr's picture

What a story!

Thank you so much for sharing this story. It was emotionally captivating and it is amazing how someone can act even after an event such as that. What an amazing story.

Kara-Amena's picture


When Fazil first shared this story with me, it was shocking. I had heard about the disturbing number of girls in Afghanistan who were attempting suicide by self-immolation. Had seen shocking images of girls who survived - covered with massive burns. It's a real tragedy. Hard to imagine feeling so trapped and depressed to make such a choice. I pray that forced marriages will end and that women won't have to see this as their only alternative.

nusrat1977's picture

Thats shocking!

So touchy...But yes, its happening in different forms in different countries...forced marriages and many Malalai...I pray it ends.


Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved. ..........Hellen Keller

Kara-Amena's picture

Thanks Nusrat

I agree - it is not a problem unique to Afghanistan. And often the boys are victims just as much as the girls. I know young men who were promised in arranged marriages from the time of their births. If they reject these arrangements, it brings shame to their whole family and is seen as a rejection of their culture and values. It's a sad phenomena and I too pray that it will end.

Lea's picture

Thank you for sharing such a

Thank you for sharing such a painful and tragic story, Kara
I can only imagine the desperation that Malalai felt as she decided to end her life rather than marry a man she knew would make her miserable. It's very sad that the family didn't believe that encouraging Malalai to get an education and to make her own decisions was a possible option.
I agree with you that in patriarchal societies both girls and boys are being told what their roles are and how they should behave. They believe that this is how they must act and if they do reject common practices, they are seen as a disgrace.
Unfortunately, practices such as arranged marriage shows us that there is still a lot of work to be done in order for fathers to value their daughters and to empower them.

Kara-Amena's picture

Thanks Lea

It's hard for me to put myself in Malalai's position. It's hard for me to imagine the desperation that would drive me to take my own life. I've had the luxury of making my own choices and choosing my own destiny for my whole life. Not all of my choices have been good ones. And it's been hard for me to step back and watch my grown children make some bad choices - but it's how we grow and learn. I am not against arranged marriages and know of many such marriages that are very happy. It's foreign to my culture, but I can also appreciate it and see the benefits.

Forced marriages are different than arranged marriages and it's important to recognize that difference. Islam does not support forced marriages. Islam wants people to marry with consent. The religion has been distorted to support forced marriages and it's a completely inaccurate interpretation of the faith.

I agree there is a lot of work to be done in many patriarchal societies. And I am thankful to know so many people in those societies who are doing that work. Strong, independent women and open-minded, sensitive men. Knowing so many wonderful people from those cultures gives me hope that we can all make the world a better place. And I thank you Lea for the contribution you are making in those efforts. Thanks for the bridges you have built and the people you have helped.

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