This short essay is by our Peace Ambassador Rita Anwari. The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the authors. Dr.Rita Anwari is thankful to Kat Battino for her editorial inputs.

The current economic meltdown experienced in Afghanistan has led to a rise in desperate families marrying off their young girls to much older men. Since the Taliban takeover, billions of dollars in central bank reserves have been frozen, including international support, which has resulted in the country’s financial collapse. The Taliban has placed bank restrictions on their civilians by only allowing $200 to be taken out per month for every person. This makes it difficult for most families to survive and contributes to the current food crisis. Further, International Aid organisations are confused about where to send the money because of these banking restrictions, which have amplified food insecurity and suffering for civilians.

Despite the pressure on the international community, things are moving at a slow pace to alleviate the people’s sufferings. By controlling how NGOs and other Aid organisations directly give aid to civilians, the Taliban can leverage this to their benefit. The lack of international aid means more families with children are suffering from malnutrition due to a worsening food crisis. Most do not know where their next meal will come from. Combined with a severe drought and the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic, most people are living in poverty and are facing acute hunger.

The worsening food situation in Afghanistan is causing people to struggle to make ends meet, with many forced to sell their possessions just to buy food. In some cases, families are being forced to sell their children in a desperate attempt to survive. This is why everyone is leaving Afghanistan.

Hunger has pushed some families to make heartbreaking decisions to sell young girls to marriage, especially in the rural parts of Afghanistan. In the name of Islam, the Taliban has promoted these families to resort to child marriage, as a solution to rising hunger and the collapsing economy.

Once these girls reach the age of puberty, from as young as 10 years old, they are sold by their families and sent to Pakistan to be married, often to a man over the age of 40 years old. They are sold in Pakistan at a higher price, based upon desired skin colour in the region. While most families try to avoid selling their daughters by finding work or borrowing funds from family members or begging for food, finding work is often unsuccessful. This uncertainty of the future and rising poverty has pushed these young girls into marriage. Many are sold as second or third wives and are too young to be able to consent to sex. They often face complications in childbirth due to their underdeveloped bodies. Unfortunately, the rise in child marriages is what we are seeing and these young girls are facing a much darker future as a result. Henrietta Fire, the executive director of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) expressed shock and dismay at this development. “I am deeply concerned by reports that child marriage in Afghanistan is on the rise. 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 stated.

Even as the problem is well acknowledged and has out the entire future generation of Afghanistan at stake, we feel helpless due to the international community’s unexplained reluctance to address the crisis urgently.

Featured Image – Pixabay

By Dr. Rita Anwari

Dr. Anwari is the Founding Director of Women Empowerment and Leadership in Australia. An experienced activist, Dr Anwari has long campaigned for social justice, equality and inclusive growth in Afghanistan.

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