Afghanistan: From Marry to MerryKhatema, 9, was ecstatic when she heard that her father was reconsidering marrying her off to a suitor. It would not have been difficult to imagine Khatema slipping into an unpredictable and challenging life if she married at her age. Two years ago, her 12-year-old sister was forcibly engaged to a friend of their father’s – an exchange that involved money.
In Afgahnistan where poverty is acute, particularly in rural areas and among displaced populations, the traditional practice of marrying young girls off has been reinforced as parents seek to reduce family expenses through the sale of a bride. According to UNICEF, 40 per cent of Afghan children are married before 18.
Poor families in Afghanistan face a broad range of challenges. Ghafoor, Khatema’s father, had been finding it increasingly difficult to provide for his big family, especially with his paltry wages and debts. With the money he could gain from Khatema’s dowry, he could settle all of his debts.
“When I got home, my father wasn’t there. My mother’s eyes were red. My siblings were silent and just looked at me,” Khatema describes the moment she learned the decision of her father to marry her off. “I asked my mother if they wanted to marry me off. She hugged me and started crying. I wanted to scream and cry, but I [couldn’t]. I went to the stable and cried there.”
In response to the prevalence of child marriages in Afghanistan, World Vision formed Peace-Promotion Task Force (PPTF) committees, whose members are trained to promote messages of peace through conflict prevention, peace-building and crisis preparedness actions in their communities.
Khatema’s mother, Fatima, never wanted her daughters to experience what she did as a girl. “When my husband offered my first daughter to his friend’s son for money, I felt helpless,” she says. “I knew that Razia, our neighbour, had been trained to solve domestic conflicts, so I immediately went to her for help.” Razia had attended World Vision’s peacebuilding training and knew how to handle family conflicts in a productive way. Razia asked her husband to talk to Ghafoor to persuade him. It took one week of discussions before Ghafoor finally changed his mind.
Khatema is sleeping soundly again. “I am studying even harder than before to realise my dream of becoming a teacher. I am so happy. I feel so relieved, like something heavy has been lifted off my shoulders.”
In 2016 alone, World Vision established four PPTF committees which have resolved 21 cases of family issues and 13 cases of economic issues within targeted districts. “During training sessions, we teach participants about violence against children and women, peace-building and resolution skills. We use ‘storytelling’ as a tool to increase community awareness of peaceful ways to conflict solution and link peace messages within religious contexts,” says Sima, a World Vision community development worker. Through this action, World Vision aims to create a better environment and a culture of peace, love, security, pacifism and physical and mental health.