Cash-strapped young Afghans turn to low-cost mass weddings

Cash-strapped young Afghans turn to low-cost mass weddings

KABUL - The crowd bursts into applause as a hundred couples enter the hall, hand in hand, grooms in simple black suits and brides in modest white dresses, red flowers in hand.

Expensive, lavish weddings have boomed in war-torn Afghanistan in recent years, but some young couples are now bucking the trend and saving money by getting hitched in low-cost mass events.

A sign at the entrance of the hall where the happy couples tied the knot in the large-scale ceremony arranged by religious charity Abul Fazel read: "Blessed is the woman who is easily maintained."

There was no dancing and the guests were entertained with poetry, stage shows, songs by young girls -- and a few topical jokes aimed at Afghanistan's turbulent political year.

"Put in all your energy and clap hard so they can come in all at once -- we don't want a second round of applause like the second round of elections," a presenter on stage told the cheering guests as the couples were entering the hall.

"We want to finish everything in the first round happily, because there won't be any John Kerry to solve your problems later," the presenter joked.

Intervention by Kerry, the US Secretary of State, helped end Afghanistan's tense election standoff and ushered in a power-sharing "marriage" of sorts between new President Ashraf Ghani and his poll rival Abdullah Abdullah.

The Taliban banned showy weddings during their hardline 1996-2001 rule, but since the US-led invasion ousted them, billions of dollars have flooded Afghanistan's economy and the taste has grown for more and more extravagant weddings.

Showy limousines, huge wedding halls, multiple receptions and parties with hundreds of guests have become almost compulsory.

A single wedding day at a hall in Kabul can now cost between $10,000 and $20,000 -- a gigantic sum in one of the world's poorest countries.

For the country's small, rich elite this may not be a problem, but less fortunate couples find themselves under huge pressure to keep up.

For those who are postponing marriage because they feel unable to put on a big enough show, the cheaper mass alternative is highly appealing.

"I was engaged for two years, I really could not afford a big wedding party. And then I heard about this organisation through media. I registered and today I am getting married," Mujtaba Rahimi, 24, a journalist sitting beside his bride told AFP.

"It is not an extravagant party, it is more spiritual. I hope more couples are wedded through such weddings and this becomes common in Afghanistan," he said.

Growing popularity

In Afghanistan, a country battered by nearly 40 years of war and whose economy is still largely reliant on foreign aid, it is the groom who traditionally pays for the wedding.

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