Imams to the rescue in curbing maternal mortality
KABUL, 12 January 2009 (IRIN) - Mohammad Tawasoli,
an imam at a mosque in Wardak Province, central
Afghanistan, tells the local community to maintain a
two-year gap between pregnancies and avoid child
marriage - to help mother and infant remain healthy.
"Islam does not allow the killing of the foetus but
it also does not want mothers to face health risks
because of… constant pregnancies," Tawasoli said.
"Islam does not oppose delayed pregnancies if this
helps the health and well-being of mothers," he told
IRIN in Kabul, adding that those who think otherwise
believe in superstition rather than true Islamic
Religious scholars such as Tawasoli wield strong
influence among people in rural communities where high
rates of illiteracy and lack of awareness about health
issues contribute to the deaths of thousands of
mothers and children every year.
Every year 17,000 women die due to
pregnancy-related complications and one child in four
does not reach his/her fifth birthday, largely owing
to curable diseases, according to the UN Children's
Food insecurity and lack of access to health
services are weakening the health and nutritional
status of women, and multiple and short-spaced
pregnancies often cause early deaths, according to
The common practice of child marriage is also a
major factor in early deaths among mothers.
"Child marriage and forced marriage are in
contradiction with Islam," said Abdul Karim, an imam
The ministries of women's affairs and religious
affairs, backed by a few aid agencies, have been
working to involve religious leaders in a strategy to
reduce pregnancy-related maternal mortality.
Over the past year, dozens of imams participated in
training workshops in Kabul at which gender experts
tried to convince them to spread the word on birth
gaps and legal-age marriage.
"Some people wrongly think birth gaps are not
Islamic. We want to tackle such ignorance with the
help of mullahs [imams]," Hosai Wardak, a gender
specialist working with the UN Population Fund (UNFPA)
in Kabul, told IRIN.
In the northeastern province of Badakhshan, which
reportedly has the highest maternal mortality rate in
the country, such efforts have borne fruit.
However, in the volatile southern and eastern
provinces, where Taliban insurgents have assassinated
dozens of pro-government religious leaders, preaching
about family planning seems to be a risky and
The government and its partners may need to adopt
alternative approaches in areas where imams are wary
of encouraging people to ensure birth gaps, and wed
under-age girls, experts said.
Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN), a
project the Office for the Coordination of
Humanitarian Affairs. IRIN is UN humanitarian news and
information service, but may not necessarily reflect
the views of the United Nations or its agencies.