Sun, Jan 09, 2011 - Page 11 News List

Lavish weddings making Afghan grooms go broke

By Michelle Nichols and Hamid Shalizi  /  Reuters, KABUL

The City Star Hall in Kabul’s Wazir Abad neighborhood, a popular wedding venue, is pictured on Monday.

PHOTO: REUTERS

Extravagant weddings with music and dance were banned by Afghanistan’s Taliban as un-Islamic and now the government plans to again rein in lavish marriage celebrations, but this time to stop grooms from going broke.

Since US-backed Afghan forces ousted the strict Islamist Taliban in 2001, Afghans have revived the tradition of holding big weddings, costing thousands of dollars, in a country where the average annual income is less than US$400.

Afghan weddings are celebrated by hundreds of guests in luxurious wedding halls with the groom and his family expected to foot the bill and agree to every request of the bride and her family.

“Wedding ceremonies among people are like a competition, no one wants to come last, people like to show off their wealth by feeding hundreds of guests in costly wedding halls,” Afghani Justice Minister Habibullah Ghaleb said. “Families are the victim of such a wrong tradition and have to accept these heavy burdens.”

Details of the planned ban on expensive weddings were still being worked out, Justice Ministry spokesman Farid Ahmad Najibi said, and he acknowledged it could be difficult to enforce because lavish weddings were so ingrained in Afghan culture.

State institutions were shattered during decades of conflict, with regional, ethnic and tribal differences also making it difficult to enforce laws. Violence is at its worst since the Taliban were ousted, making security a priority even while authorities try to rebuild the aid-reliant economy.

Rafi Kazimi, 24, and his family spent about US$10,000 when he married Farima, 20, in October. The couple had 600 guests at their wedding in Kabul. Taxi driver Kazimi and his family are now repaying at least US$6,000 in bank loans.

But Kazimi recently lost his job and his family — his wife, mother, father, grandmother, two sisters, three brothers and one of their wives — are surviving on his older brother’s salary of US$410 a month, US$300 of which is used to repay the loans.

“It was too much,” Kazimi said of the money spent on his marriage to his first cousin. “I was so worried about how to find this money. Her parents didn’t care if I had the money or not, they just said we must have a big wedding.”

While Kazimi thought a ban on expensive weddings was a good idea, he doubted if it would be accepted. Along with the wedding celebrations, a groom and his family are also expected to pay for ornate outfits for the bride and groom.

The government’s bid to regulate weddings follows similar moves by some tribal elders and provincial officials.

Late last month, elders from several villages in northern Jawzjan Province banned expensive weddings and dowries in a bid to encourage young people to marry instead of postponing their nuptials because they could not afford it.

Under the rules, the cost of a wedding must be in line with the economic status of the groom and if someone violates the ban then they will not be invited to any other weddings in the village.

“Marriage is everyone’s right and it must not be presented as a huge burden for the bride and groom,” said Azaad Khwa, an elder from Jawzjan. “Making the groom’s family pay for everything and feed hundreds is a big sin.”

Many elaborate wedding halls have sprung up around Kabul over the past nine years, compared with just a few that operated while the Taliban were in power from 1996 to 2001.

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