Gold prices killing wedding hopes in Pakistan

As gold hits record highs, some couples are being forced to postpone, or even cancel, their weddings.


Ppi August 18, 2011

PESHAWAR: Far from the busy floors of the world's major commodity-trading centers, rising gold prices are taking their toll on marital tradition in Pakistan.

As gold hits record highs, some couples are being forced to postpone, or even cancel, their weddings because their families cannot piece together a suitable dowry. In places like Kanju, in the country's northwestern Swat Valley, no gold means no wedding, because this is a place where tradition trumps all, says a report by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

"My two brothers are engaged to marry, but we have to postpone both weddings because of the incredibly high price of gold," says Shahnaz Bibi, a resident of the village. "My cousin's wedding is also off for this reason."

The price of gold has soared on global markets, rising beyond $1,700 per troy ounce. In Pakistan, where precious metals are measured in Pakistani tolas (0.44 troy ounce), one tola of gold currently costs more than US $670.

Tradition dictates that families should buy several tolas of gold for their children's wedding, but with average salaries hovering around $150 a month, even middle-income families like Shahnaz Bibi's are finding the costs too steep.

"My brothers have to give their brides 10 tolas of gold as dowry," Shahnaz Bibi says. "We can't afford that. This is too much."

Her native Swat, a district in the northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, has suffered tremendously in recent years from clashes between Pakistani Taliban militants and government troops and destructive floods.

"We already have too much on our plate," Shahnaz Bibi says. "We're under the strain of poverty."

Gold is a status symbol in Pakistan, where no bridal ensemble is complete without ample if not excessive solid gold accessories, from numerous rings and earrings to elaborate bracelets and necklaces.

Shortly before a wedding, the proud parents will customarily display the wedding jewellery to guests. After the wedding, the bride enters her new husband's home adorned with the gold, which is not provided for decorative purposes only. It is also seen as an investment in the family's future.

According to Swat tradition, it's the duty of both sets of the parents to provide gold, which is seen as a much more reliable asset than real estate or cash. In wealthy families, however, usually it's the bride's family that purchases most of the gold.

It's the weight of the gold that counts, not merely the act of gifting jewelry. Fake or gold-plated jewellery is not going to cut it because it is common for potential in-laws to have experts verify the purity of the gift.

Well-to-do families and neighbors are known to compete by upping the ante when it comes to gold purchased for their children's weddings.

Those who can't afford to splurge often do so anyway and are forced to borrow or work abroad to keep up appearances.

For years, the dowry tradition has come under criticism both by politicians and the Pakistani media, which describe it as an unnecessary extravagance that leaves families in debt and misery. Some local mullahs have sought to discourage people from overspending on gold, saying Islam's prophet did not support the concept of the dowry.

Whereas politicians' and mullahs' lectures failed to end the gold dowry culture, it seems that high prices could finally force Pakistanis to break with the tradition.

Just a few months ago, well-to-do parents in Swat used to give at least 30 to 50 tolas (12 to 20 ounces) of gold to their children's weddings. Nowadays, such families are content with providing 15 to 20 tolas of gold. Impoverished families would traditionally provide two to three tolas, but they now settle for half that amount.

Peshawar jeweler Azmatullah Khan says record high gold prices are not translating into good business. He watches customers leaving his shop empty-handed, disappointed by the high costs.

"Poor people come to our shops with a clear budget on their minds," Azmatullah Khan says. "They come to the shop to buy, let's say, five to six tolas of gold for a wedding. When we tell them that amount of gold would cost about 300,000 rupees (US$3,460) they leave in dismay."

Kainat, a young villager in Kanju, says impoverished families like hers consider the gold dowry tradition a burden that destroys many lives. The wedding of Kainat's sister has been called off because her family couldn't afford their share of dowry gold.

Such a situation, as dictated by more local tradition, can cost a family its reputation.

"We are helpless," Kainat says. "We cannot even leave the house, and my father cannot cope with this issue that had so much impact on my sister's destiny."

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COMMENTS (8)

Zubair Humayun | 8 years ago | Reply | Recommend

http://pk.msn.com/news/localnews/alqamar/2011/August/8453271.aspx?region=pk.&featuredpk

msn copying from tribute or what?!

John | 8 years ago | Reply | Recommend

Gold is real money that humans have managed to understand over the course of evolution. The ancient civilizations of Indian subcontinent, china and south east Asia understood that and all invading forces came to this region for one thing-Gold. The European civilization went around the world for Gold also.

The price of gold will continue to increase as income levels increase in Asia, as it is happening in now, for the next fifty years. The quantitative easing methods employed by the G-7 nations do not strengthen their fiat currencies, so ultimately gold will see an increase in price.

How much is dependent on the Indian, pakistanis and may be middle easterners since the demand for gold is primarily from jewelry market.

Can an Indian or Pakistani bride and groom forego gold in their wedding or in their birth of their children? If the answer is yes, then the price of gold will fall. But can anyone in the subcontinent say we will forego gold ? All will say,"we will postpone our wedding; our love for each other can wait but we must have gold" and part with teary eyes . The strong Indian rupee and raising income level among middle class in India and China's government advice to their citizens to buy gold will only increase the price of gold in years to come.

The day when Indian and Pakistani women stop wearing gold, gold has no value. I do not see this happening anytime soon.

So marry now guys and girls, gold or not!

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