I was very young during the Taliban regime. It was one of the toughest, most frightening and unforgettable periods for every Afghan, especially for children and women. Our country had been under Taliban rule for many years and it was in a perpetual economic, political and emotional crisis. I did not realize what that would mean for me until I was forced into marriage at only 16 years old. However, child marriage is a cultural practice that threatens the lives of many girls every day in Afghanistan. This practice can occur very quickly with an agreement between two families, and it will damage the goals, dreams and health of girls who have talent, dreams and determination. The young bride will not only be under physical pressure by becoming a young wife, and a young mother, but will also be very stressed emotional-ly. Males in an Afghan family require the young bride to do everything correctly for her husband and his family.

The Taliban had the power to control every aspect of the country, starting from government to people’s lifestyle. People could not choose how to live, what to wear or even celebrate events, festivals and weddings the way they wanted. During that period, I was very young. I remember women and girls were not allowed to go out and they had to wear a blue burka. The Taliban outfit was very scary to me, long black clothes and long hair. Men were al-lowed to go to school to study Sharia or Islamic studies. They had to per-form prayers five times a day in the mosque. It was mandatory. The Taliban were aware of the number of boys in every family, in every town. If they found out that a son was not performing prayers in the mosque, they would go after him, punish him and make him come regularly to the mosque.

It was not an easy regime for anyone. Men were not allowed to cut their beard or mustache. If they did cut their hair or beard the Taliban would ar-rest them and punish them in public. Their punishment was usually held in the football stadium. If the Taliban saw women in the market, they would whip them. I was always scared to go out. I never watched TV or even knew about it. Social media was banned in the entire country. If they arrested a person for having a CD, TV or any social media network. I remember every day my family and I were living in fear. Women and children were more vulnerable at that time. If the Taliban chose a girl to marry, the family had to accept it. Otherwise, they would kidnap the girl or kill the family members. I was always afraid to be kidnapped. I used to hide myself from them. My mother used to tell me that I should not go outside because if the Taliban saw me, they would take me from my family by force. It was a horrible fear that I carried with me.

After the Taliban regime collapsed in 2000, I went to GoharShad High School in Herat. I was enthusiastic about going to school and continuing my education at a higher level. My sisters and I were responsible for providing for our school stationery and expenses. I learnt to be responsible for my own life since poverty was the main source of my dad’s daily arguments with my mother. When I was almost 7 years old, I started helping my brother at his mechanics shop and he would give a small stipend. I was very happy to save money to buy notebooks and pencils for my school.

Gradually, I became the top student in my 2nd grade class. I took the merit exam to skip the 6th grade and was happy when I passed. From the 7th grade on, I helped tutor my classmates in math, physics and chemistry and they even paid me a small stipend. Every day, I was preparing for new class lectures to help my classmates. I was extremely happy and continued to help them every year.

I used to enjoy it when there were wedding ceremonies in my family. When my twin sisters were married. I wished to have a wedding like my sisters and wear pretty dresses. I never thought about what marriage really means and how young they were

Time was flying and I was now in 9th grade, when suddenly my family agreed to my engagement to a man twice my age. It was the scariest typhoon I had ever experienced. I did not know anything about married life. I never had any information about sex. Sex education is not common among families. It is considered immoral, shameful and bad to talk about sexual topics with unmarried girls. I was too young to be married and I was still en-gaged with my inner child. I could not imagine being a wife to anyone.

My family was excited for me to marry a man who was financially well off. My sister used to tell me that I would be very lucky to live with him, because he would buy me whatever I wanted and my marriage life would be better than my parents’ lives. I would not suffer from poverty. I used to cry at night and imagine losing my education and my dreams. I used to see myself doing something different and marriage complicated my future. Life became very difficult, but my motivation to receive an education stayed strong. I worked very hard to protect my passion and enthusiasm and concentrate on my school studies.

Sometimes the family problem was so intense that I had to stay home rather than go to school. I could not stop thinking about school. I had to persist! In the 12th class while I was married, I became the trigonometry teacher’s assistant to all 12th grade classes. Unfortunately, my school achievements had meaning for me but not for my family. But repeated obstacles and dis-appointments could not keep me down. I decided to keep my dreams all to myself and not share them with people around me.

Please help Shagufa raise funds to pursue her education and help end child marriage in developing countries. Donate here: ShagufaGoFundMe