Everything you need to know about marriage in Afghanistan

4 Jun 2023·22 min to read
Articles
Everything you need to know about marriage in Afghanistan 01

Marriage is one of the most important events in the lives of Afghans. Afghanistan is a country at the intersection of Central Asia and South Asia, and both foreigners and Afghan nationals are allowed to get married. Marriage is viewed as a way of uniting families together and also strengthening the existing ties in one’s family or ethnicity. The two major types of marriages in the country are civil and religious marriages. The country is governed by the principles of Sharia law, and religious marriages are the most common types of marriage in the country. 

Civil marriages are commonly performed by spouses who are from other foreign countries; however, if certain criteria are met, foreigners may also perform a religious marriage in Afghanistan. When it comes to female spouses, marriage is often perceived by female spouses as an experience of several years of planning and anticipation to assume the roles and responsibilities of a wife and mother, while for men, it marks the start of a new era as the head of the family and husband. 

In Afghanistan, the minimum legal marriage age for boys and girls is different. Traditionally, male and female spouses are not perceived as equals, and there are clear expectations and responsibilities that differentiate both genders. Male spouses are regarded as superiors in the family with paramount authority, while female spouses have the primary duty of taking care of the household and obeying their husbands. The minimum marriage age for men is 18 years, while that for women is 16 years. 

However, partners below these ages are allowed to marry with parental consent or a judge's authorization. In fact, marriages between minors are quite common in the country, especially for girls. Child marriages and forced marriages are prevalent in Afghanistan, where an estimated 65–80 percent of all marriages are forced unions. Also, over 50 percent of all female spouses are married off before the age of 18. Read on to find out more about marriage in Afghanistan.

Civil and court marriages

Civil marriages in Afghanistan are performed in the civil registry or court, and these marriages are recognized and protected by the laws of the country. According to the laws of the country, Muslims are supposed to get married based on the principles of Islam and in a sharia court. So most times, civil marriages are performed by non-Muslim spouses, who are often foreigners. Most marriages in the country are generally divided into two parts. There is often a court ceremony followed by a Muslim religious marriage; however, civil marriages are quite different because they only involve one of the two ceremonies. 

Only the first part of the court registration is required in a civil marriage, where an acceptance agreement is signed by the parties getting married. The court also has the responsibility of applying the rules and regulations governing marriage in the couple's home country. This implies that laws guiding marriages in the home country of a foreign spouse must also be applied in Afghanistan, such as in a case where the legal marriage age or type of marriage, like polygamy, differs. To begin the marriage registration process, a foreigner must first visit the family court that is situated at the residence of the Kabul Governor. 

This applies to foreigners who are getting married in Kabul; others are allowed to register their marriages at the civil court. Spouses getting married in the family court are required to bring along two witnesses, and they must also have their own valid means of identification. Traditionally, male and female spouses do not hold the same level of power. What this means is that in cases where two male witnesses cannot be provided, two females must be used to replace a male. Upon the completion of the marriage registration, the court then issued a marriage certificate to the spouses upon their request. The minimum marriage age as stated under the laws must be attained by both spouses, even if they are foreigners. 

During the marriage registration process, there are certain documents that are requested from the couple. These documents are meant to help in adding their information to the national registry as well as verifying all the information provided regarding marital status, etc. The process of applying for a marriage certificate in Afghanistan can be performed either in person or through the use of the mail. The documents required are listed below.

Documents Required 

  • A valid means of identification for both spouses, such as an Afghan national ID or a foreigner's passport
  • Two witnesses must be present during the registration with their own valid means of identification as well as passport photos and copies.
  • Copies of a government-issued birth certificate
  • Both spouses are required to submit a copy of the duly completed marriage application form.
  • Divorce or death certificate If one or both of the spouses were previously married, proof of the legal termination of such marriage as a result of a separated or deceased spouse is required. Documents obtained from foreign countries must be certified by an authorized notary public with an apostille. Also, these documents must be translated into Pashto and Dari, the official languages of Afghanistan.

Religious and traditional marriages

Religious and traditional marriages are the most common types of marriages in Afghanistan. According to the constitution of the country, Islam is the state religion, and about 99.7% of the total population is of the Islamic faith, with Sunni Islam being the larger denomination. It is quite rare to see Afghans who are Christians or have other religious beliefs; however, the laws of the country allow spouses of other religions than Islam to exercise their religious practices. 

Muslim marriages are performed by couples where either one or both of the spouses are Muslims, and the first ceremony is often performed at the sharia court. After the Sharia court procedures are completed, a second Nikah ceremony is held. During the Nikah, the spouses are required to sign a marriage agreement. Muslim men are allowed to marry non-Muslim women; a Muslim woman is not permitted to marry a non-Muslim man. 

Upon marriage, the woman has to adopt the religion of her husband and convert to Islam. In some cases, a woman may be allowed to marry a non-Muslim if he agrees to convert to Islam before the marriage. In Muslim marriages, the bride and groom as well as their respective families may decide to hold separate parties in their respective houses or hold one jointly where various guests are invited.

Everything you need to know about marriage in Afghanistan 02

Marriage traditions in Afghanistan

Engagement Party 

This is a party organized by the bride's family before the actual wedding ceremony. This party is usually performed after the dowry has been paid, and it is meant to give both families an opportunity to get to know each other properly and become familiar with each other.

Henna Night 

The henna night is usually attended by the bride's close female friends as well as other female relatives in her family. The gathering usually involves a small party where the bride is celebrated by her closest friends and family. The custom is for the henna to be drawn by maiden girls in the groom's family.

Nashtaye 

This is a unique marriage tradition in Afghanistan, where the bride's family presents the bride with breakfast when she is at her groom's house. This is often performed the morning after the wedding, and Nashtaye usually includes very delicious and rich meals.

Same-sex and polygamous marriages

There is no recognition of same-sex relationships in Afghanistan, including marriages, civil unions, or registered partnerships. The law strictly forbids homosexuality and any form of sexual activity between two or more people of the same sex. Practicing same-sex marriage or relationships can result in imprisonment and a maximum penalty of death.

Polygamy is legally accepted in Afghanistan. The act of marriage in the country is governed by the principles of Sharia law, which allows a man to marry up to four different wives. One popular reason why men marry more women is the need for a male child.

Everything you need to know about marriage in Afghanistan 03

Marriage Laws and Rights, Costs and Duties

Laws

The family laws guiding the act of marriage in Afghanistan are not only founded in Sharia law; customary laws, ethnic rules, and state laws all come together to form the laws that regulate the act of marriage in the country. Marriage between Muslims, both male and female, is generally accepted in the country. A Muslim man is allowed to marry a non-Muslim woman if he wishes to, but a Muslim woman is not allowed to marry a non-Muslim man unless he converts to Islam. All Afghan citizens are believed to be Muslims by default; therefore, non-Muslim citizens who wish to enter into marriage are not allowed to do so unless they agree to have a Muslim ceremony. 

Foreigners can contract marriage in Afghanistan, but they can only contract a civil marriage, which must be registered at a civil court. They must also provide two witnesses and a valid means of identification, such as their passports; the witnesses must also have a valid means of identification. If one of the foreign couples is Muslim, a religious ceremony would be held at the time of marriage registration; if none of the couples are Muslims, only a civil ceremony would be held. Both civil marriages and religious marriages are recognized by the law in Afghanistan, and the marriage certificate obtained in the country is globally recognized. The legal age for marriage in Afghanistan is 16 years for women and 18 years for men; no exceptions are made for persons younger than the stipulated age for marriage. 

In spite of the laws put in place, many girls are made to enter into marriage long before they reach the legal age for marriage once their wali gives consent. Homosexual activity is against the law in Afghanistan; it is considered a criminal offense. Same-sex couples are liable to face punishment such as imprisonment or the payment of fines, and in some extreme cases, they are faced with the maximum punishment, which is death. Consent to marriage is essential because marriage is believed to be a contract between two families; therefore, the husband and wife must give their willing consent before entering into marriage. Anyone who allows or conducts marriage between a female minor, a widow, or a girl over the age of 18 without her consent is liable to go to jail for at least two years. 

Despite the fact that the law requires that consent be gotten from both parties before marriage can be considered legal, the consent of the bride is often not respected, and once her legal guardian, also known as a wali, gives permission, even if it is not in the interest of the bride, the marriage can take place. As a matter of fact, many couples do not see each other until the day of the ceremony. Polygamy is allowed in Afghanistan; a man is permitted to marry up to four wives, provided he has the physical and financial means to do so and if he is able to treat all of them equally. 

However, only men are allowed to practice polygamy; the concept of polyandry on the part of a woman is considered taboo and is seen as a punishable offense. Consanguineous marriages can be allowed in the country; many couples marry their close family relatives, and some even enter into marriage with their family members in order to maintain the strong family bond. All couples must submit valid documentation that must be verified by appropriate authorities before marriage can take place.

Rights

By nature, men and women have equal basic rights and freedom from birth until death, but this is not the case in Afghanistan. Men are seen as superior, which grants them more rights generally and also in marriage. Once marriage is contracted, the husband and wife have the right to procreate and raise children according to their various religious beliefs. They also have the right to perform the role of the legal custodian of the children and exercise parental authority when needed. However, the wife only has the right to be recognized as the legal guardian of the children until they reach a certain age, 7 for boys and 9 for girls, after which the wife forfeits this right and the sole custody of the children goes to the husband. 

Both the husband and wife have the right to divorce, but the legal framework is unequal: men have the right to divorce their wives for no reason; he has the right to perform talaq, in which he simply says that he divorces his wife even if she is not present, and the divorce is final. The wife also has the right to divorce; however, it must be under certain conditions, such as the husband's impotence or inability to pay her maintenance, which must be proven beyond every reasonable doubt, and even before she files for divorce, her husband must agree to it. 

The woman also has the right to contract divorce, known as "Khol." This form of divorce actually favors the husband because the woman is only granted divorce after she has paid off the amount her husband asks her to pay. Both the husband and wife have the right to inheritance; the surviving spouse has the right to inherit property belonging to the deceased spouse; however, many women refuse to exercise this right due to ignorance and certain customary laws, which eventually force them into levirate marriages. 

Spouses have the right to work and receive meaningful payment for that work, but certain restrictions are placed on the rights of women whereby they have to receive permission from their husbands before they can work, and he also has the right to stop them from working even if he is not working as long as he believes that the job is distracting them from their household responsibilities. The husband also has the right to restrict the movement of his wife; she has to ask for his permission before she can do anything, and if she refuses to obtain his permission, she can be punished.

Costs

Weddings are an expensive affair in Afghanistan. The custom of paying bride price is also very prevalent in the country, and not only does this contribute to the excessive cost of marriage, but it also causes many young couples to put their marriages on hold until they are financially capable enough to contract marriage. The cost of the bride's price is determined by the family of the bride, specifically her father or brothers, and the groom is expected to foot all the bills by himself, but the groom's family often pitches in to help. 

Bride prices typically range between 400,000 and 3,000,000 afghanis, or $4,575 and $34,313 respectively. Large numbers of guests are often invited to these ceremonies, which automatically makes the average budget for a wedding very large in Afghanistan, and this often causes a problem for many families. Therefore, the government decided to put a stop to this practice and reduced the number of guests at a wedding to 500 and also reduced the cost of food and drink for each guest to around 400 afghanis, which is approximately $7. 

In summary, the total cost of a wedding in Afghanistan has been reduced to $3,500. This law has a bittersweet effect, as many wealthy families that use the ceremony as an opportunity to show off their status do not have the chance to do so anymore, and average families who have to borrow and save for years do not need to borrow, and they can use the excess money for other things.

Duties

The duties and responsibilities of the husband in the average Afghan household are based on gender norms. The wife is obligated to always obey her husband under whatever circumstances; she is responsible for the day-to-day care of the children, the home, her husband, and his family. The role of the wife is limited to the house; she is responsible for the housework, cooking, cleaning, and making sure that no disrespect comes to the family name. The husband's role is to provide for the family; he is responsible for the provision of all material and physical needs of the family and must provide maintenance for his wife and the children. He is often expected to be dominant, self-reliant, and authoritative. 

He is solely responsible for the economic needs of the family. The husband is seen as the head of the household; therefore, he is only allowed to make decisions that affect the health and comfort of the family. He is required to protect the family from any form of harm that might come to them. They both have a duty to take care of the children, but since there are limitations on the duty of the wife, the husband is obligated to provide proper educational and moral upbringing for the children and also ensure that the children grow up in a conducive environment.

Final Thoughts 

Like other Islamic states in the world, Afghanistan is governed by sharia law. Child marriages are rampant in the country because, a lot of times, children are forced into marriages to get married at such an early age. In some rural communities, the female children are perceived as a means to make money, and it is not uncommon for families to marry off their children in order to receive payment in the form of bride price. Over the years, the rights of female spouses have not been equal to those of male spouses in Afghanistan.

Marriage in Afghanistan can be performed by both Afghan nationals and foreigners. However, most foreigners only perform civil marriages, which do not involve the processes or criteria of religious Muslim marriages in the country. Once a foreigner decides to conduct a marriage in Afghanistan, they must abide by the marriage laws as laid out by the constitution in the country. This article includes everything you need to know about marriage in Afghanistan.

Related