By RFE/RL’s Radio Azadi
December 1, 2022
In the 15 months since the Taliban took power, there has been a dramatic increase in early marriages of Afghan girls — a trend activists and human rights campaigners attribute to parents’ belief that securing a spouse for their girls is better than seeing them forced to marry members of the Taliban.
Marrying their girls off also provides some sense of security: fewer mouths to feed at a time when Afghan girls have been banned from attending school and face harassment as the country deals with a humanitarian crisis and economic ruin.
Khatira, a 12-year-old seventh-grader who used a pseudonym out of fear of retribution, told RFE/RL’s Radio Azadi her parents arranged her engagement to a much older man in her native western Ghor Province six months ago.
“I didn’t want to marry,” 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.”
Khatira was a brilliant student. She was top of her class and had big dreams for the future. She wanted to serve her community by becoming a doctor in the remote, impoverished province.
A marriage to Taliban fighters or officials — particularly elderly ones seeking second or third wives — was not something her family could bear to see.
“The Taliban policies shattered all our dreams,” Khatira said.
Firoza, 18, was in the 11th grade when the Taliban shut her school in Ghor, destroying her plans of entering a university. Soon her family married her off against her will.
“The wedding crushed all my dreams,” she said. “I faced immense pressure and had no option but to accept a forced marriage.”
Shukria Sherzai, a women’s rights activist in Ghor, says the cases of forced and underage marriages have increased exponentially since the Taliban seized power in August 2021.
She says that many families agree to early unions in the hope of sparing them from being forced to marry Taliban members. But even if the reasoning is based on securing a better life, the effect has been devastating to the family structure.
“Forced and underage marriages have resulted in violence and turmoil within families,” she told Radio Azadi.
International rights watchdogs have documented similar trends. “The rates of child, early, and forced marriage in Afghanistan are surging under Taliban rule,” noted a July report by Amnesty International.
Nicolette Waldman, a researcher for Amnesty International, says that the most common drivers of child, early, and forced marriage since the Taliban’s takeover include the economic and humanitarian crisis and lack of educational and professional prospects for women.
Many are not able to find alternatives to the Taliban. “Families are forcing women and girls to marry Taliban members, and Taliban members are forcing women and girls to marry them,” she said.
Waldman says that since seizing power, the Taliban has imposed a web of interrelated restrictions and prohibitions that has trapped Afghan women and girls. “These policies form a system of repression 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 draconian policies are depriving millions of women and girls of the opportunity to lead safe, free, and fulfilling lives,” Waldman said.
Afghanistan is rife with speculation that the Taliban is contemplating a complete ban on women’s education, work, and mobility in a return to the policies imposed during the extremist group’s infamous first stint in power from 1996 to 2001.
A December 2021 decree by the Taliban’s supreme leader, Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada, about women’s rights was silent on women’s education and work. But it outlawed forced marriages by requiring women’s consent for marriage.
That requirement is apparently not being enforced.
Marziah Nurzai, 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 witnessed one father marrying his daughter to a drug addict in exchange for a dowry worth some $2,500. Another one sold off his 10-year-old for more than $4,000 in cash.
“Think about what will happen to such girls in the future,” she said. “Since there is no hope for reopening schools, girls are losing hope and self-confidence.”
Many young girls across Afghanistan have already given up on the idea of a better future after being forced to marry.
Razia, a 22-year-old law student who spoke to Radio Azadi using a pseudonym, says she and her younger sister were forced to give up their university educations after the Taliban seized power. She says that once back in their native northern province of Kunduz, she had no chance of ever becoming a judge as she had planned.
Earlier this year, her father arranged for them to be engaged to relatives, fearing that Taliban fighters might ask for their hand in marriage. “I am not happy,” she told Radio Azadi of her now 2-month-old marriage. “I have no choice but to suffer silently in this traditional society.”
In Ghor, Khatira also sees no prospects of resuming her education. She recalls spending days learning new things at school, but is now struggling with despair and grief.
“Every new day is gloomier than the previous one,” she said.