By Amanda Cupido and Alison Ralph
Meet Fariba Sedigi. She's a teacher at an all girls school in Herat, Afghanistan.
As her students take their seats, each of them wearing a long black dress, and a white head scarf, she pays close attention to who's missing. She's not worried that her students won't show up because they're skipping class. She's worried they won't show up because they've gotten married.
“One time in my school, I noticed that one of my students was not in the class,” recalls Fariba. “I asked the students where she was, and they told me she had been sold to be married.”
Most of her students grew up with mothers, grandmothers and great grandmothers, who were forced into early marriage. In Afghanistan, one third of girls are married before 18, and only 14% have the opportunity to finish school, significantly limiting their opportunities for the future.
But Fariba is dedicated to breaking the cycle.
Watch this video:
“When I went to the family, I asked them, why would they marry off such a young girl? They told me it was because of the bride price.”
The family expected to receive $7,000 in exchange for their daughter’s marriage. For a family facing decades of poverty, conflict, and severe drought, this windfall would be enough to sustain them with food and shelter for about seven years.
“I talked with a community elder and together we worked with the family for two months,” says Fariba. “After two months, the family eventually agreed to stop the marriage.”
Fariba has helped to intervene to end several child marriages over the years.
Listen to this interview with Fariba:
Fariba’s own experience is unique in Afghanistan. A well-educated and unmarried woman in her 30’s, she credits her parents – particularly her father, for the freedom she had to pursue her dreams. She grew up the only daughter, with several brothers, but her parents treated all of them the same. Her father recently passed away, but she continues to fight for education for women because of his inspiration.
In the classroom she prompts her students to talk about the root causes of child marriage. Outside of class, she's also a community leader known as a Shura (a local council member) and a facilitator with a World Vision community change group.
The community change group has accomplished a lot over the years, growing from a small group teaching 10 women in 2014 to more than 500 now.
Fariba is a teacher and a shura or community council member. She uses her influence to speak out against child marriage in her community. Photo: Brett Tarver
“Before, there was no choice for girls to say no, but now with awareness, they can speak with their parents. It is important that they speak up and say that they don’t agree.”
As a respected community leader, Fariba knows she can make a difference in the lives of these girls.
“As facilitators we have the ability to prevent child marriages in the villages where we work. We can prevent them by having meetings with their families, involving Imams, publishing announcements and providing consultancy.”
Today, Fariba's work to end child marriage is getting noticed. Community members are joining her efforts to prevent more underage marriages from happening.
“We need to continue being active to stop child marriage. If we come together our voice will be stronger.”