Say talaq three times and you’re free to go: if you want, throw your kids and wife out of the house, and if you want, get yourself a second wife. This is not a story from the Middle Ages—it is exactly what happens in the countries of Central Asia. In the modern age, men have more and more often begun the practice of divorce by telephone or text message. The heroines of Current Time TV’s project “Asia 360” share just what kind of fate these three words doom women and children to.

*In Islam, talaq signifies a husband’s right to terminate the marital bonds, that is, by saying the word talaq three times, the husband ends the validity of а marriage that was founded on religious rites. If the spouses have not reconciled after 4 months, it means that there should be a divorce.

The author of the “Asia 360” project is journalist Adilet Bektursunov. The project filmed programs about different cities and regions throughout Central Asia, but lately, due to the pandemic, it mainly focuses on Kyrgyzstan, telling about its interesting places: Batken, Naryn, Mailuu-Suu, and many others.

“He got married to someone younger and threw me and our children out on the street”

Osh resident Mubina said that she lived with her husband for 14 years and gave him three children. But one day her spouse told her to “get out” of the house. Then, he beat her severely and, afterwards, said talaq three times.

“My husband said that he wanted a second, younger wife, I agreed, I just asked that he not kick me out of the house. He didn’t agree, he told me to take the kids and get out, and then the beatings started. Talaq—it’s a bad word. After it’s said, it’s already impossible to live together. He’s been living with his second wife for a year already, he’s not interested in the kids. I’m working in a sewing workshop, and that’s my only refuge,” she says.

Mubina says that no one would get married to her with her three children, and she will not agree to trade her children for a man.

“Who would get married to me with my three kids? And I wouldn’t agree to it myself. I live for my kids; I won’t abandon them for a man. I don’t eat, so that my kids can, and I work around the clock. Here there are a lot of women who live the same and endure it all for their kids,” Mubina tells Kloop.

“Grandmothers lay down in the doorway, [blocking my way] …now I would crucify them and leave”

The second heroine of the video, Aiturgan, also lives in Osh and is raising four children. She was forced into a marriage when she was 18. Before that, a woman was kidnapped a whole three times, and on the fourth time she stayed because the relatives insisted. With tears in her eyes, Aiturgan tells how she miscarried twice after being beaten by her husband.

“After a year of marriage, my husband started to become violent toward me. I lost children twice because of that in the seventh and third months of pregnancy. When our second daughter was born, my husband brought up divorce. Later, I was only giving birth to girls, and he didn’t like that. I gave birth to them all via C-sections. After the birth of our third daughter, he brought up divorce again and left for Russia. I was left alone, and I looked after his sick father. It turns out that he got married during that time. He returned later and told us to leave, he said that he didn’t need me anymore. His dad had just died then. I, it turns out, had just been a slave for them.” Aiturgan says.

Aiturgan recounted how her husband had come home drunk that day, beat her, and kicked her and their kids out on the street at 2 AM, when she herself was pregnant.

“I was afraid to go back, I thought he would kill me. A truck driver picked me up and drove us to a hospital. Later, the police came, and they put me in a crisis center, where I gave birth to a son. My husband doesn’t help. Our marriage wasn’t official, so I can’t demand anything from him. I earn money restoring objects. My kids have something to eat and to wear. I regret not leaving when they kidnapped me. Grandmothers lay down in the doorway, [blocking my way.] They said I would be unhappy if I stepped over them, but I’m so unhappy anyway. If I knew that then, I would have crucified them and left,” she admits.

Aiturgan also said that they make women give birth to six or seven kids in Osh, without thinking about the futures of these children.

“In the south in villages, if you only give birth to two kids, you’re called infertile. They make women give birth to six or seven children each. And then the kids are left to raise themselves. People have a narrow mindset. But I don’t want to give birth anymore. If the age-old traditions have treated me like this, then I don’t want to follow them anymore,” she admits.

What do they say in the crisis center?

The head of the crisis center Darika Asylbasheva says that every year hundreds of women from the most remote villages appeal to her for help.

Darika Asylbasheva. Screenshot from the video “Asia 360” / Current Time TV

“I was called and told that a family wants to force their 17- and 18-year-old daughters to get married. The village head gave them shelter and called me to ask if I could take them in my center. As you can see, governmental agencies can’t change anything themselves. But how are we to solve the problem? After all, we don’t have any leverage, we only give psychological support. The authorities aren’t even guaranteeing safety for their own citizens,” Asylbasheva says.

She also mentions that the reason for divorces is a lack of money, interference from relatives, and labor migration since men find their second wives, while living abroad.

In the minds of the other villagers, a divorced woman is shameful, so many are forced to share their husband with other women, hoping that they and their children will still be provided for. Even though polygamy is illegal in Kyrgyzstan, clergymen bind these unofficial marriages with the union of nikah, a valid marriage in Islam.

The status of being a divorced woman causes women to wander between rented apartments without work or education. Yet the rate of these types of divorces remains unchanged.

Translated by Taylor Wilson from Respond Crisis Translation.