In the 15 months since the Taliban took power, there has been a significant increase in early marriages of Afghan girls — a trend that activists and rights activists attribute to parents believing that securing a wife for their daughters is better than seeing them forced to. Marriage to Taliban members.
Marrying their girls off also provides some sense of security: fewer mouths to feed at a time when Afghan girls have been prevented from going to school and face harassment as the country grapples with a humanitarian crisis and economic ruin.
Khadiya, a 12-year-old seventh grader who used a pseudonym for fear of reprisal, told RFE/RL radio that her parents had arranged her engagement to a much older man in her native western Ghor province six months earlier.
“I didn’t want to get married,” she said. “But my father warned me that if I refused to marry, the Taliban would force him to marry me to one of their fighters.”
She was seriously a valedictorian. She was at the top of her class and had big dreams for the future. She wanted to serve her community by becoming a doctor in the poor, remote county.
Marriage to Taliban fighters or officials – especially the elderly looking for a second or third wife – was not something her family could afford to see.
“The Taliban’s policies shattered all our dreams,” he said.
Firuza, 18, was in grade 11 when the Taliban closed her school in Ghor, ruining her plans to enter university. Soon, her family married her against her will.
“The wedding shattered all my dreams,” she said. “I faced enormous pressure and had no choice but to accept the forced marriage.”
Shukriya Sherzai, a women’s rights activist in Ghor, says cases of forced marriage and child marriage have increased dramatically since the Taliban seized power in August 2021.
She says many families agree to early marriages in hopes of avoiding being forced into marriage with Taliban members. But even if the rationale was based on securing a better life, the effect was devastating to the family structure.
“Forced marriage and minors have led to acts of violence and turmoil within the family,” she told Radio Azadi.
International rights monitors have documented similar trends. A report issued by Amnesty International in July noted that “rates of child, early and forced marriage in Afghanistan are on the rise under Taliban rule.”
The most common drivers of child, early and forced marriage since the Taliban takeover include the economic and humanitarian crisis and the lack of educational and career prospects for women, says Nicolette Waldman, researcher at Amnesty International.
Many are unable to find alternatives to the Taliban. “Families force women and girls to marry Taliban members, and Taliban members force women and girls to marry them,” she said.
Since seizing power, Waldman says, the Taliban have imposed a web of interconnected restrictions and taboos that have trapped Afghan women and girls. “These policies constitute a system of oppression that discriminates against women and girls in Afghanistan in almost every aspect of their lives,” she said.
She says that the Taliban’s violations of the rights of women and girls are increasing month by month. “The group’s brutal policies deny millions of women and girls the opportunity to live safe, free and fulfilling lives,” Waldman said.
Afghanistan is rife with speculation that the Taliban is considering a complete ban on women’s education, work and transportation, returning to policies imposed during the extremist group’s infamous first period in power from 1996 to 2001.
A December 2021 decree of the Taliban’s supreme leader, Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada, on women’s rights was silent on women’s education and employment. But he banned forced marriage by requiring the woman’s consent to the marriage.
It appears that this requirement has not been implemented.
Marzia Noorzai, a women’s rights activist in the western province of Farah, attributes the rise in forced and underage marriages to the Taliban’s decision to close girls’ schools. She told Radio Azadi that she saw a father marry his daughter to a drug addict for a dowry of about $2,500. Another person sold his 10-year-old for more than $4,000 in cash.
“Think about what will happen to these girls in the future,” she said. “Since there is no hope for schools to reopen, girls are losing hope and self-confidence.”
A sewing studio in Farah district offers training to women who could do little under Taliban rule.
Many young girls across Afghanistan have already given up on the idea of a better future after being forced into marriage.
Razia, a 22-year-old law student who spoke to Radio Azadi under a pseudonym, says she and her younger sister were forced to give up their university education after the Taliban seized power. Once she returned to her native northern province of Kunduz, she says, she had no chance of becoming a judge as she had planned.
Earlier this year, her father arranged their engagement with their relatives, fearing that Taliban fighters might ask for their hand in marriage. “I’m not happy,” she told Radio Azadi of her two-month marriage. “I have no choice but to suffer silently in this traditional society.”
In Gour, Khatira sees no chances of resuming her education. She remembers spending days learning new things at school, but now struggles with despair and sadness.
“Each new day is darker than the day before,” she said.
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