Tackling the problem of child marriage in Afghanistan requires awareness-raising campaigns, particularly in remote communities, according to panelists at a UNAMA-supported debate in western Herat city.
Mahboobeh Jamshidi, a panelist and head of Herat's Department of Women's Affairs, said it was essential to raise awareness in remote rural areas about the harmful consequences of child marriage, as this was where most violations were taking place.
The event brought together a five-member panel who discussed the issues before an audience of more than 35 people, including women’s rights activists, university students, provincial council members and government officials.
Child marriages are illegal, but widespread in Afghanistan, occurring mainly in rural areas, according to UNFPA, and particularly affecting girls. While the internationally recommended marriage age for girls is 18, many Afghan girls marry at 15 or 16, sometimes as young as eight, which is a fundamental violation of their human rights and contrary to the Law on the Elimination of Violence against Women.
Poor families sometimes sell their daughters for large dowries from wealthy people and the husbands are usually much older, while girls and adolescents are far likelier to die of causes related to pregnancy than older women, notes UNFPA. Child marriage also contribute to social isolation, an interruption of schooling and a greater risk of domestic violence, along with limiting career and vocational opportunities.
Another panelist, Abdul Qadir Rahimi, who heads the Independent Human Rights Commission in Herat, underscored the need for better data on the extent of the child marriage problem, especially in remote areas, where it is believed many cases go unreported.
Abdul Majid Samim, a university lecturer and religious scholar, said religious scholars could play an important role by raising the child marriage issue in mosques and encouraging people to stop the practice.
A 30-minute, pre-recorded programme, based on the debate, was broadcast yesterday on Asia TV in Herat and is being broadcast today in Farah via Donya-e-Naw radio. The programme will be repeated in both provinces this week, reaching an estimated audience of up to 400,000 people.
Herat is an important trade route, sharing as it does a frontier with neighouring Iran and Turkmenistan.