Afghanistan is one of the most challenging places in the world for women and girls to live, ranking 170th of 189 countries on the UN’s Gender Inequality Index
. More than 35% of Afghan girls are married before the age of 18 and nearly 10% before their 15th birthday.
But that’s not where the story ends. Across the country, people of all ages and genders are speaking up for the vulnerable children impacted by child early forced marriage
. On International Women’s Day, we’re celebrating these everyday heroes who are choosing to challenge the status quo for gender equality.
How you can help children at risk of child marriage
After watching this video and learning about this amazing community of people in Afghanistan who are stepping forward to challenge social norms
around child marriage, it can make you wonder what you can do. Here are two simple ways you can help:
Give Raw Hope
Your gift to Raw Hope provides children living in the world’s most dangerous places like Afghanistan, with essentials like food, water, medicine which also helps address root causes that lead to child marriage. Together we can help the most vulnerable children survive, recover and build a future.
Sponsor a girl
When you sponsor a girl, you increase her opportunity to discover her own agency and voice, access the resources she needs like school, nutritious food and safe water, and to be surrounded by a community that respects and protects her rights. Sponsorship means more girls remain in school and out of child marriage. And, because of our community-focused solutions, for every child you help, four more children benefit too. While you can't sponsor a girl in Afghanistan, sponsorship does help end child marriage globally.
Why child marriage happens
There are four main reasons why girls are forced to marry early:
- Insecurity. In unstable places where girls face a high risk of harassment or assault, like refugee camps and during humanitarian crises, many families view marriage as a way to protect girls from danger.
- Poverty. More than half of the girls growing up in extreme poverty are married as children. Early marriage can often be a negative coping mechanism to relieve financial burden or in communities where there is a “bride price”, an opportunity to repay debts.
- Gender inequality. In many communities where child marriage is practiced, girls are less valued than boys and often seen as a burden. Gender inequality and the desire to control choices for women and girls and their sexuality is often directly linked to the concept of family honour.
- Tradition. Early marriage can happen because of traditional practices. In many places, when girls begin to menstruate, they are considered women and marriage becomes the next step in her pre-determined role as a wife and mother.
Alhanoor (left) lives in a displacement camp with his wife and children. They were forced from home because of conflict and drought. “We have no protection here,” Alahnoor told us. “In one of the other camps a girl just disappeared. I am afraid we will be robbed and that my daughters will be kidnapped or raped. I don’t want to marry her off, but there is nothing I can do, I have to sacrifice one of the family members to save the others.” Photo: Brett Tarver
Challenging social norms
While attitudes are slowly starting to shift
toward greater gender equality, the voices and agency of adolescent girls continue to be restricted. Long-standing social norms discourage girls from voicing their opinions or preferences when it comes to household decision making or aspirations beyond the home.
As girls move into adolescence, parents often tighten restrictions on personal choice and mobility to protect their daughter’s virginity and family honour. And a strong gender bias can reduce the resources invested in girls’ nutrition and education. For example, this can mean that at mealtimes, boys are served first and most, and girls are served last and with what remains. It can also mean that boys are prioritized for school and girls are kept home to do household chores. These biases contribute to parents’ perception of their daughters as an economic burden and their marriageability as an ‘asset’ to be traded.
Success of the community change solution
So far, staff with World Vision Afghanistan have engaged thousands of parents, faith leaders, schoolteachers and both community and government leaders through Community Change Groups that have been developed throughout the region.
Today, 88% of children involved in the programs report that they are able to complete their education instead of getting married. Most importantly, community members have a better understanding of the problems associated with child early forced marriage and why girls need to stay in school. There is also a process in place for the whole community to address the issue and intervene when necessary. Advocacy for policy changes and enforcement continues at both local and national levels.
While a lot of progress has been made, there is still a very long way to go to ending child early forced marriage in Afghanistan. With your help, we can help more children survive, adapt and thrive.
Merydth Holte-McKenzie is World Vision Canada's senior gender equality advisor. With more than 25 years of experience, she is a strong advocate for health and gender equality. Merydth holds a Masters of Community Health from the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, and a BSS in Political Science from the University of Calgary.