‘Future of entire generation at stake’: UN official on increasing child marriage among girls in Afghanistan
A top UN official expressed concerns about increasing child marriages in Afghanistan and said there have been reports about families offering daughters only 20-days old for future marriages in return for a dowry.
The executive director of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Henrietta Fore in a statement said that estimates showed 28% of Afghan women between 15 and 49 years of age were married before turning 18.
“I am deeply concerned by reports that child marriage in Afghanistan is on the rise. We have received credible reports of families offering daughters as young as 20 days old up for future marriage in return for a dowry,” Fore said in a statement.
“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,” she added. “UNICEF estimates that 28 per cent of Afghan women aged 15–49 years were married before the age of 18,” she further said.
The UNICEF head also noted that the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, food crisis in the country and the onset of winter have worsened the situation for many families, highlighting that almost 50% of Afghan families lacked basic nutrition or clean water in 2020. “The extremely dire economic situation in Afghanistan is pushing more families deeper into poverty and forcing them to make desperate choices, such as putting children to work and marrying girls off at a young age,” she said.
Further, she said that most teenage girls in the country were not allowed to go back to school and thus increasing the risk of child marriage. “Education is often the best protection against negative coping mechanisms such as child marriage and child labour,” she added.
Notably, Taliban foreign minister Amir Khan Muttaqi on Friday claimed that 75% of the girls in the country had resumed their education.
UNICEF also called on the “de facto authorities” in Afghanistan to prioritise reopening of schools for secondary school girls and allowing female teachers to resume their work. The UN body also said that it is working to raise awareness about child marriage for girls. “Child marriage can lead to a lifetime of suffering. 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,” Fore said.
“We have started a cash assistance programme to help offset the risk of hunger, child labour and child marriage among the most vulnerable families. We plan to scale up this and other social services programmes in the months to come,” she added. She also said that UNICEF would work with religious leaders to ensure that they were not involved in the marriage of young girls. However, she said that the measures were not enough. “The future of an entire generation is at stake,” she added.
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