Afghan families offering daughters as young as 20-day-old up for future marriage: UNICEF
Expressing concern over reports that child marriage in Afghanistan is on the rise, UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore said the Covid-19 pandemic, the ongoing food crisis and the onset of winter have further exacerbated the situation for families.
In 2020, almost half of Afghanistan's population was so poor that they lacked necessities such as basic nutrition or clean water, the UNICEF executive director said in a statement issued on November 12.
"We have received credible reports of families offering daughters as young as 20 days old up for future marriage in return for a dowry," she said.
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 UNICEF official said, adding that the children were between 6 months and 17 years of age.
"UNICEF estimates that 28 percent of Afghan women aged 15–49 years were married before the age of 18," Fore said.
"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.
As most teenage girls are still not allowed to go back to school, the risk of child marriage is now even higher, she said.
Education is often the best protection against negative coping mechanisms such as child marriage and child labour, the UNICEF official added.
She further said: "UNICEF is working with partners to raise communities' awareness of the risks for girls if they are married early. 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."
UNICEF have started a cash assistance programme to help offset the risk of hunger, child labour and child marriage among the most vulnerable families. It has plan to scale up this and other social services programmes in the months to come, Fore said.
UNICEF will also work with religious leaders to ensure that they are not involved in the "Nekah" (the marriage contract) for young girls, she said, adding, "But this is not enough."
She called on central, provincial and local authorities to take concrete measures to support and safeguard the most vulnerable families and girls. "We urge the de facto authorities to prioritise the reopening of schools for all secondary school girls and allow all-female teachers to resume their jobs without any further delays," the UNICEF Executive Director said.
"The future of an entire generation is at stake," she added.