Afghan girls at increased risk of child marriage: UNICEF

TORONTO – Months after the Taliban captured Kabul on August 15, aid organizations are sounding the alarm that Afghanistan is slipping back into rising poverty and hunger, with young girls allegedly being sold into child marriages so their families can survive.

The UN says 22 percent of the 38 million people in Afghanistan are already close to starvation, and a further 36 percent face acute food insecurity because they cannot afford food.

In a statement this month, UNICEF said it was “deeply concerned” at reports that child marriages in Afghanistan are on the rise as families sell their young girls to provide food.

“We have received credible reports of families offering daughters as young as 20 days old for future marriage in exchange for a dowry,” the statement said.

UNICEF said that even before the Taliban took power, the organization’s partners registered 183 child marriages and 10 cases of child sales from 2018 to 2019 in the provinces of Herat and Baghdis alone. The children were reportedly between six months and 17 years old.

UNICEF estimates that 28 percent of Afghan women between the ages of 15 and 49 were married before the age of 18.

“As most teenage girls are still not allowed to go back to school, the risk of child marriage is now even higher. Education is often the best protection against negative coping mechanisms such as child marriage and child labor, ”the statement continues.

Although it is illegal to marry children under the age of 15 in Afghanistan, it is a common practice, especially in more rural areas. Nearly 10 percent of Afghan girls between the ages of 15 and 19 give birth each year due to little or no access to contraception or reproductive health services, according to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).

Maternity complications due to their underdeveloped bodies, lack of health care and their inability to consent to sex mean that pregnancy-related mortality rates for girls aged 15 to 19 are more than twice as high as for women aged 20 to 24, says UNFPA.

The COVID-19 pandemic, the Taliban’s takeover and the coming winter have made it extremely difficult for families to survive. Nearly 677,000 people have been displaced by 2021 due to fighting, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Many of them live in tents or temporary shelters in internal displacement camps.

International funding, which once made up a large part of the Afghan government budget, has dried up as much of the world does not recognize the Taliban’s government. In addition, Afghanistan’s economy is estimated to have shrunk 40 percent in the past three months.

The United Nations Development Program, the World Health Organization and UNICEF are the three main aid organizations through which donors channel money to prevent funds from ending up in the Taliban’s coffers.

The UN’s World Food Program, which provides direct cash assistance and food to families, provided assistance to 9 million people by 2020. That number has risen to almost 14 million by 2021, and the agency says it will spend $ 220 million a month to reach 23 million people in 2022, according to The Associated Press.

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With files from The Associated Press and CNN

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