Nadia Zahel – Given Away as a Child Bride, Afghan Woman Describes 24 Years of Abuse

Spogmai was just 12 years old when she was separated from her parents and handed over to another family. But this was no ordinary arranged marriage. Instead, she was given to a man more than three times her age in order to settle a family feud.

Her voice trembles as she recalls the day she entered a form of slavery. “I was playing outside, oblivious and innocent, when my mother suddenly called me into the house, crying hysterically,” Spogmai tells me. “She made me change into my best set of clothes and then took me to my neighbors and gave me away.”

Her new husband raped her on a daily basis, she says, and she endured torture and beatings from his family. She has lived in such captivity for 24 years. She agreed to speak to me on the condition that we protect her identity. Spogmai is not her real name.

The brutal Afghan custom of baad allows women and girls to be given, like property, to resolve disputes or clear debts. Human Rights Watch calls the semi-legal custom, which has no religious basis, one of Afghanistan’s “most abusive customary practices.”

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