Winter, hunger & child marriage make women in Afghanistan suffer

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Photo credit The Geneva Summit of Human Rights

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By Akansha Vashist

New Delhi, January 16: The ruling Taliban have turned blind eyes to the deepening hunger of the people in Afghanistan, as famine in the middle of the harsh winter has left half the population starving. Amid the deepening humanitarian crisis, the Taliban are busy forcing the strictest Sharia law on the people in the country.

Weeks after announcing that girls cannot attend schools and colleges, the Taliban further worsened the situation by decreeing that the women cannot work in Non- Government Organizations (NGOs). The decree has forced some of the European NGOs to leave Afghanistan at a time when the people needed them the most, while also making the war-ravaged country receding from the global attention.

Some of the suffering women are, incidentally, sole bread earners for their families. “If I cannot go to my job, who can support my family?,” one woman working for an NGO told the BBC in an interview. Others shared the prevailing anguish.

How will they provide food for their families in the midst of winters, the women have been asking, while food inflation is at an all-time high in Afghanistan after the devastating droughts which struck the country for the last three years. Lack of work, severe weather and high inflation forced people to seek extreme measures. They are selling their girl child as brides to the highest bidders. Some of these girls are just 8-9 years old.

Now, only five per cent of Afghan families have enough to eat daily, and inflation for essential household goods is at 40 per cent, even more families are struggling, said the World Bank in a report. “I had to choose between the survival of my four little children and giving my eldest girl (aged 14) to marriage in exchange of dowry, paid by the groom to the bride’s family,” a woman (herself a young widow) told a leading newspaper over the phone from the southern Afghan province of Kandahar.

In the first eight months since the Taiban took control of the country in August 2021, more than 120,000 children were feared to have been bartered for some sort of financial incentive, according to aid agencies. This number must have increased exponentially by now.

“Even before the latest political instability, UNICEF’s partners registered 183 child marriages and 10 cases of selling of children over 2018 and 2019 in Herat and Baghdis provinces alone. The children were between six months and 17 years of age,” said the UNICEF in a report. The UNICEF further estimates that 28 per cent of Afghan women aged 15–49 years were married before the age of 18.

Nearly a tenth of Afghan adolescent females (aged 15–19) give birth every year as a consequence of early marriage, while suffering from the lack of access to reproductive health information and services, UNFPA said in a statement. Mortality rate during child birth is also very high in this age group.

While poverty pushes vulnerable parents to extreme remedies such as giving their teenage daughters for dowry, the Taliban’s ban on secondary education and work for women appears to have facilitated the rise in child marriages in Afghanistan. Hunger and severe malnutrition threaten the lives of more than one million Afghan children, the UNICEF has warned.

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