UN agencies call for protecting Afghan girls from child marriage

UN agencies call for protecting Afghan girls from child marriage

The United Nations agencies in Afghanistan on Thursday called for protecting Afghan girls against child marriage, noting the child marriage remains rampant in the insurgency-hit country, Xinhua reported.

"In Afghanistan child marriage is a harsh reality for too many young women. More than 46 percent of Afghan women are married before age 18, according to the Afghanistan Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey 2010/2011, and more than 15 percent before age 15," they said in a joint press release.

On Dec. 19, 2011, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution to declare Oct. 11 as the International Day of the Girl Child, to recognize girls' rights and the unique challenges girls face around the world.

This year marks the first anniversary of the day with the theme of "my life, my right, end child marriage."

"The requirement for the free and informed consent of both parties to a marriage is recognized in international legal instruments to which Afghanistan is a party as well as under its national laws in cognizance with the principles of Islam. The Elimination of Violence Against Women Law (EVAW) criminate the practice of Child Marriage recognizing that a child under the legal age of marriage is not capable of giving her valid consent to enter into marriage," the top UN envoy in Afghanistan, Jan Kubis, said in the release.

In response to widespread concerns about the violence against women, the Afghan government enacted the EVAW law in August 2009. However, Afghan laws set 16 as the minimum age of marriage for a girl and 18 for a boys.

"Child marriage is a health issue as well as a human rights violation .. Girls aged 10-14 are five times more likely to die in pregnancy or childbirth than women aged 20-24. Despite a lot of progress during the past ten years, Afghanistan's maternal mortality rate is still 327 deaths per 100,000 live births .. and child marriage is one of the main barriers to improving the health of women and children in Afghanistan," Laurent Zessler, UNFPA Afghanistan Representative, said.

Girls face a huge risk when they get married at young age. Violence is one of the negative consequences of child marriage which affects both the physical and psychosocial health of young girls and robs them of their childhood and future opportunities. Getting married in an appropriate reduces girls' risk for physical, sexual, psychological, and economic abuse. Besides, marriage below the age of 16 is a violation of the Afghanistan Civil Law, the UN Women Representative, Ingibjorg Gisladottir, noted in the release.

The EVAW law criminate child marriage, forced marriage, selling and buying women for the purpose or under the pretext of marriage, giving away a woman or girl to settle a dispute, forced self- immolation and 17 other acts of violence against women, including rape and beating. It also specifies punishment for perpetrators.

However, women right activists criticized the government for failing to apply the three-year-old landmark law to most cases of violence against women.

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