Image: UNICEF/UN0498790/UNICEF Afghanistan
Amid the chaotic scenes and lakhs of hollow promises, a UN official expressed grave concerns over the rising cases of child marriage in Afghanistan. According to a statement released by the UN, families offer daughters as young as 20 days old up for future marriage in return for a dowry. As per UNICEF estimates, more than 28 per cent of Afghan women aged 15–49 years were married before the age of 18. "We have received credible reports of families offering daughters as young as 20 days old up for future marriage in return for a dowry. Even before the latest political instability, UNICEF’s partners registered 183 child marriages and 10 cases of selling of children over 2018 and 2019 in Herat and Baghdis provinces alone. The children were between 6 months and 17 years of age," express the official statement released by the executive director of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Henrietta Fore.
She stressed that a majority of the population is facing an acute shortage of food and other basic facilities even before the Taliban ousted the democratically elected government in mid-August. However, she noted that the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the upcoming winter, has further deteriorated the condition of the already debt-ridden population. As per the UN report published in 2020, almost half of Afghanistan’s population was so poor that they lacked basic necessities, such as nutrition or clean water and the extremely dire economic situation is pushing more families deeper into poverty. Further, it forced the families to make desperate choices, such as putting children to work and marrying girls off at a young age.
"As most teenage girls are still not allowed to go back to school, the risk of child marriage is now even higher," Fore said. "Education is often the best protection against negative coping mechanisms such as child marriage and child labour."
According to her, girls who marry before they turn 18 are less likely to remain in school and more likely to experience domestic violence, discrimination, abuse and poor mental health. They are also more vulnerable to complications in pregnancy and childbirth. She said that the organisation is working with partners to raise the awareness of communities on the risks girls face when marrying early, such as a lifetime of suffering. The agency has also started a cash assistance programme to help offset the risk of hunger, child labour and child marriage among the most vulnerable families. She said the plan is to scale up this and other social services programmes in the months to come. Moreover, the international agency has also collaborated with the local religious leaders in order to stop such practices, said the top UN official.