By: Mirwais Jalalzai
With approximately 1 in 2 girls married of before age of 18, South Asia has the highest prevalence of child marriage in the world.
South Asia accounts for almost half of global child marriages, in which an underage girl is married to a man, who is usually much older than she is.
The legal age for females to marry in most South Asian countries is 18, or 16 in Afghanistan; however, underage marriage remains common. According to UNICEF, Bangladesh is also ranked second globally in terms of the rate of child marriages, where 74 percent of women currently aged 20-49 were married before they turned 18. The figures in India and Nepal also top 50 percent, placing them among the top 10 countries in the world in terms of child brides.
In Afghanistan soon after a girl is sold as a bride, she is sent to live in her in-laws house and is expected to perform her “wifely” duties; such as cleaning, cooking, and bearing children. However, this can be a serious health risk.
Just few weeks back, there was country wide anger over the marrying of an 6 year-old child bride, who was sold to a 60 years old religious man ( Mola) in northern Afghanistan and she was taken to hospital because of bleeding after the man forced himself on him.
According to Afghan Civil Law Article 40, “marriage is a contract between a male and female for the establishment of a family and the legal age of marriage to be 16 for females and 18 for males, but the reality on the ground is something deferent.
According to the social experts, poverty is the main factor which driving child marriage in south Asian and especially in Afghanistan.
Girls from poorer families are more likely to marry young then girls form wealthier backgrounds. Many families in South Asia do not see the value in sending girls to school, which can be of poor quality and offer few economic prospects.
Early pregnancies compound risks:
Afghanistan is one of the most dangerous places in the world to get pregnant, and child marriage a contributing factor: Early and frequent sexual relations before girls are physically mature and psychologically ready along with early and frequent pregnancies compound the risks of maternal death or disability (such asobstetric fistula). One in four Afghani women age 20-24 had their first child before age 18.
Child marriage is also a contributor to pervasive violence against women. Both human rights violations are rooted in women’s low status.
Social norms in Afghanistan and some of the south Asian countries value boys more than girls mean that parents do no invest in their daughters’ health and education, which child marriage as the only alternative.
In communities where the bride’s family must pay a dowry to the groom, marrying a daughter before she reaches adulthood reduces the size of the dowry.
This is because some cultures believe that the girl’s attractiveness will decrease with age.
Another reason is the fear that a girl might engage in premarital sex, which would then lower her “value.” According to the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW), in the four countries where more than half of the girls are married before 18, which includes Bangladesh, more than 75 percent of people live on less than $2 a day.
Marrying at a young age will most likely mean an end to education for most girls. This means that they will not be able to obtain the skills and knowledge needed to generate an income while caring for their children.
Girls Not Brides..
A young Afghan woman, who made national headlines by singing her way out of child marriage, has become a champion for Girls Not Brides and will use her voice the advance global efforts to end child marriage.
With a poet’s soul and activist‘s passion, Sonita uses her rap lyric and powerful voice to address child marriage. She was born in Afghanistan but grew up a refugee in Iran where she faced forced marriage while still a child. In an effort to express her pain and shear the experience of friends also being forced in to marriage, she wrote “daughter for sale” and created a homemade video. The song caught the world’s attention and has been viewed over half a million times.
Girl Not Brides champions are influential advocates who have the ability to rise the awareness of chilled marriage related issues with people at key moments at the national and regional or international levels. They can open doors which would otherwise but shut, they can be a strong voice in a media, they can inspire our members and others civil society groups and show they are not alone in working to end the practice of child marriage.
Afghanistan has ratified the UN Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women in March 2003 and supports various other human rights instruments, he noted.
But in spite of these commitments, coerced early marriage is still very much a reality in the country, even as UNFPA and its partners support efforts to make sure that the potential of girls are fulfilled.