Law on forced marriages still widely flouted

KABUL, 16 Mar 2005 (IRIN) - Standing out from the crowd in a queue of women waiting outside the Afghan Ministry of Women’s Affairs to submit their complaints, Turgul Khan looks a little confused.

The 22-year-old resident of Jilgah in the central province of Wardak is seeking help and advice from the ministry's legal department as his family is under pressure from relatives to marry off his 13-year-old sister and he's not happy about it.

Although the legal age for marriage in Afghanistan is 16 for females and 18 for males, many people, particularly in rural areas, either ignore the law or claim they are not aware of it.

Turgul said that when he was six he accidently shot and killed his uncle’s daughter while playing with a loaded rifle. His uncle forgave him. “But now, after 16 years, he wants my sister to marry his son, saying that in the past I killed his daughter,” Turgul told IRIN. “But my sister does not want that and neither do I.”

The practice of resolving conflicts between families by giving daughters or sisters to the agrieved party remains common in Afghanistan, local human rights groups have said.

“If the laws say that we should do that, than neither my sister nor I have a problem with that, but if the law does not approve it, we will not do that,” Turgul said. He maintained that his uncle, who was formerly a judge during the Taliban regime, was a powerful man in his community, while his family was poor.

Initially, the young man went to the district head asking him to resolve the issue, but he reportedly supported the claim of his relative.

The case of Turgul’s sister illustrates the continuing problem of forced marriages in the country. "Child marriage is a serious issue in Afghanistan because it has a very negative impact on society," Dr Suraya Subehrang, deputy minister of women's affairs, told IRIN earlier.

According to the women’s ministry and women’s NGOs, approximately 57 percent of Afghan girls get married before the age of 16.

The practice of forced marriages is carried out for many different reasons, including giving a female in marriage as repayment for a debt, or to resolve a feud. Many Afghan families determine whom a daughter should marry without her consent. The Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) estimates that up to 80 percent of all marriages in Afghanistan are conducted without the consent of the parties involved.

Tradition and an improper interpretation of religious rules lie behind the many and varied abuses of women's rights in the country, including forced marriages, Baryalai Sabir Barya, a legal adviser with the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), told IRIN, adding that illiteracy and a lack of education were also contributing to the problem.

Source: 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.

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

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