An elderly Muslim cleric, identified as Mohammad Karim, has been arrested for marrying a six year old in the northwestern Ghowr province of Afghanistan. He claims that the girl was “given” to him as “a religious offering.” According to the head of the provincial Women’s Affairs Department, “This girl does not speak, but repeats only one thing: ‘I am afraid of this man.'”
There are two conflicting versions of the story: Either this young girl was in fact given as a religious offering, or she was sold into marriage by her parents. The provincial police chief, Mohammad Andarabi, says the the marriage took place in front of the girl’s parents who received cash and food.
Both stories of what happened to this young girl are horrific violations of her rights to a safe childhood and to bodily autonomy.
The Washington Post reports:
Under Afghan law, girls must be 16 to marry. But many are married off while still in their early teens. In a recent report, Save the Children, which is active in Afghanistan, said the practice deprives girls of the right to “education, safety and the ability to make choices. . . . This is such a fundamental breach of a child’s basic rights.”
The struggle to protect women from abuse, and to modernize traditional Afghan practices such as selling brides and using girls as barter to settle disputes, has met with stubborn cultural and political resistance.
According to Sima Samar, head of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, “In some regions because of insecurity and poverty the families marry off their daughters at a very early age to get rid of them.”
Andarabi has assured the press, “The girl is safe . . . she has not been molested.” She is currently in the care of local women’s shelter.
Women’s rights activists are disheartened that after 15 years of democracy girls are still routinely forced into marriages, used as bartering chips rather than respected as human beings. This six year old girl is safe now, but she may not ever be able to return home to the relatives that handed her over to an old man. The incident reveals the determination of the police and women’s agencies, but it also shows the stubborn resolve of the abusive cultural traditions they are fighting against.