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In Kandahar, Couples Turn To Mosques, Tribal Elders For Divorce


An bridegroom receiving friends to his wedding in southern Afghanistan.

Instead of going to the government, residents in southern Afghan province of Kandahar are turning increasingly to traditional tribal law or the religious courts to resolve legal disputes.

One of the most common disputes now being solved by either local clerics or tribal elders involves divorce.

In Kandahar, like most Afghan regions, a strict segregation between men and women is enforced by centuries-old social norms and religious teachings. Thus marriages are predominantly arranged by parents instead of prospective spouses choosing each other out of free will.

An increasing number of these arranged marriages are now facing strains, but ending them also presents dilemmas and obstacles that often force individuals and families to seek quick remedies from clerics and tribal leaders.

According to Mursal Ahmadzai, a woman human rights campaigner, this is happening for a number of reasons, including fears of corruption and long delays in decision-making in the courts.

Even the simplest of cases seem to take months to resolve through official judicial channels, say Kandahar locals, which is why they're looking for alternatives.

One local woman, Sharifa, says she took her divorce case to the village mosque because her husband had asked the official courts to delay the proceedings.

Tribal leaders in Kandahar
Tribal leaders in Kandahar

"My husband is addicted to drugs, and I have two children," Sharifa says. "I was forced to marry this man, and I've had a very bad life with him. I have no other choice but to divorce him."

"On average, we get one or two divorce cases a day at the court,” says Del Aqa Hemat, chief judge at Kandahar's Court of Appeal. "But the same amount of divorce cases are being resolved by clerics and tribal elders. It is a common thing, and the cases are being decided using the principles of religious law."

Hemat rejected criticism that the cases simply took too long to go through the official system. "When a case is referred to us, we try to resolve it in good time," he insists. "I don't believe that locals are going to mosques and elders because of this. The residents of Kandahar have been solving their problems this way for a long time."

Additionally, Hemat says he doesn't mind where the cases are being decided so long as somebody is investigating them. He also expressed concern about the rising instance of divorce in the area.

There are many reasons for the increase in divorce, says Roqia Achakzai, director of Women's Affairs for Kandahar. Mainly problems between husband and wife, domestic violence, brides not getting along with their mothers-in-law, forced marriages of underage girls, drug addictions, and financial problems are the most common reasons for ending the marital union.

One of the main reasons for dysfunctional marriages is that prospective brides and grooms often don't meet or have a chance to know each other personally before they marry.

Still, there is no end in sight for the arranged marriages in rural areas in which prospective spouses who may find themselves living with a stranger sometimes fail to nurture their relationship and forced to opt for a divorce.

While the clerics and tribal leaders are contributing to facilitating divorce, they and the government have no plans to address most of the strains that are forcing marriages to dissolve.

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