Mar 24 (IPS) — The author is an Afghanistan-based female journalist, trained with Finnish support before the Taliban take-over. Her identity is withheld for security reasons.Afghan girls have been denied the right to attend school and university since the Taliban took power in August 2021. But as if this was not tragic enough, many girls have also been forced to marry too early in life.
A combination of poverty and the fear of girls being forced to marry the islamist fighters of the Taliban movement are the main reasons behind the increasing rate of teenage marriages in the country.
In order to save them from the Taliban, a group that violates their basic human rights, parents would rather marry off their underage daughters elsewhere.
Forced marriage of underage girls has been practiced in Afghanistan before but it has increased significantly since the return of the Taliban to power in 2021, twenty years after they were ousted by the U.S troops.
The Taliban have forcefully married dozens of girls, often using intimidation, coercion, and death threats. Also, the covid pandemic, closing of schools, the disappearance of employment opportunities for women and the harsh economic situation has forced families to marry off their teenage daughters in order to cope. The dowry received from the marriage helps to feed the rest of the family for some time.
According to the UN Childrens’ Fund UNICEF, girls are sold into marriage even as babies. UNICEF estimates that 28 per cent of girls are forced into marriage before they turn 18.
“I have even seen girls married off at the age of 14 in one of the northern provinces”, says Zainab (name changed), a woman activist. She is deeply concerned about girls marrying under-age, saying it is violence against teenage girls.
The Taliban have resorted to kidnapping girls and threatening them with forced marriage. Besides, the Taliban gather information on the number of unmarried girls in a family and if there are any, they want them for marriage.
They send forms to be filled out in the mosques, particularly requesting for information on girls aged between 13 and 18, according to Zainab. Families would therefore give up their daughters to relatives for marriage rather than let them fall into the hands of strangers.
In Kabul and in other provinces, members of Taliban have even threatened to kill family members of under-age girls who refuse to give their daughters up for marriage and have forced teenage girls to marry men with two or three wives. Young and educated girls have had haunting experience from such cases.
“My friend is 15 years”, narrates Maria (name changed), “a Taliban commander of over 50 years, and already married to two wives came and proposed to her. She turned him down. The girl’s family had to flee in the night to a hiding place without even taking their belongings”.
In another case, Marwa (name changed) in Kabul said a member of the Taliban had sent her first wife to her family to propose to a 10th grade girl, threatening to kill their son if they refuse to give up their daughter for marriage. The teenage girl’s father had no option but to hand her over. She was 30 years younger than the man.
This story was produced by Learning Together, a voluntary network of Finnish female journalists. The author is an Afghanistan-based female journalist, trained with Finnish support before the Taliban take-over. Her identity is withheld for security reasons.