Stuck between economic hardships and conflict, Afghan brick kiln worker Fazal said the devastating economic situation in Afghanistan had left him with a stark choice – marry off his young daughters, or risk the family starving to death.
Last month, he received a $3,000 dowry payment after handing over his 13- and 15-year-old daughters to men more than twice their age. If the money runs out, he may have to marry off his seven-year-old, he said.
“I had no other way to feed my family and pay off my debt. What else could I have done” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation from the Afghan capital, Kabul. “I desperately hope I won’t have to marry off my youngest daughter.”
Child marriage has increased in tandem with soaring poverty since the Taliban seized power 100 days ago on Aug. 15, with reports of destitute parents even promising baby girls for future marriage in exchange for dowries, women’s rights activists said.
They predicted the rate of child marriage – which was prevalent even before the Taliban’s return – could nearly double in the coming months. “It paralyzes (my) heart hearing these stories … It’s not a marriage. It’s child rape,” said prominent Afghan women’s rights campaigner Wazhma Frogh.
She said she was hearing of cases every day – often involving girls under 10 years of age, although it was not clear if young girls would be forced to have sex before reaching puberty.
The United Nations children’s agency UNICEF said there were credible reports of families offering daughters as young as 20-days old for future marriage in return for a dowry.
Crippled by drought and economic collapse, Afghanistan is set to become the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, according to U.N. agencies. As winter sets in, they said millions were on the brink of starvation, and 97% of households could fall below the poverty line by mid-2022.