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Wednesday, 3 April 2013

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THE SAD LEGACY OF CHILD BRIDES…

She is six years old, loves to go to school and wants to continue to live with her parents. After all, that’s what normal six year olds all over the world, do. But for Naghma and many other Afghan girls her age, that freedom of childhood is robbed far too early.

Naghma is a bright eyed six year old who has been sold by her father for marriage with a seventeen year old youth – her father had borrowed money from the boy’s family and the only way the debt could be settled is by selling the little girl.

But Naghma got lucky – an anonymous donor paid off the US $ 2,500 debt through his/her American lawyer, as media reported. Naghma will now get to live her parents and go to school, something her intended teenager husband had wanted stopped.

Naghma’s father Taj Mohammad had borrowed $ 2,500 from a fellow refugee-camp inmate to pay for the medical bills of his wife. He had spent the money caring for his sick wife and for the illnesses of some of his nine children, one of whom, a three year old, who later froze to death.

Barbaric practice

Taj Mohammad told media that since he was unable to pay the money, the elders along with the family to whom he owed money, demanded that he gives his daughter as barter. But Naghma’s fate changed – yet, charity workers in Afghanistan wonder for how long.

Naghma, a child bride in Afghanistan

There are chances that Naghma may still be forced into an early marriage. Half of all girls in the country, according to estimates, are forced to marry before they reach the age of fifteen.

Aid agencies believe that it is a challenge to convince the Afghans to end this age old barbaric practice. In the country’s patriarchal society, it is the norm for debt to be settled with the selling of a daughter. Not even the government has been able to change the tribal practices of a people stubborn and defiant of conforming to today’s accepted standards and norms.

Just what does this mean for little girls and boys in Afghanistan? They do not get to live out their childhood as children. They are denied opportunities to study and engage in childhood practices. As the rest of the world hurls itself on to the 21st Century, it is sad that the children of Afghanistan will not be on that journey.

Older husbands

Media reports quoted Manizha Naderi, who heads Afghan Women for Women an organization that runs many shelters in the country, saying that poverty was the reason many opted for child marriages.

Typically, a wealthy husband would want a younger bride preferably from a family that has many children to support so that they would not mind losing one early on.

Naghma isn’t the only one. The practice takes place in India as well. Three years ago, two girls aged thirteen and fourteen, fled their village dressed as boys, refusing to marry the older husbands they were wed to. They were caught by Police and returned to their village, where they were viciously flogged publicly. The human rights groups tried intervention but the authorities did nothing even though the beating was captured on tape.

Fawzia Kofi, a prominent female member of Parliament in Afghanistan told New York Times that there were too many cases to make note. “Early marriage and forced marriage are the two most common forms of violent behaviour against women and girls,” she said. Recently, the horrible torture of a fifteen year old Afghan girl at the hands of her in-laws brought out the tragedy into focus.

She had been locked in a basement, her fingernails ripped out and burnt with hot irons.

In a rare display of justice, her tormentors were sentenced to prison.What can we learn from these stories taking place not too far away – we in Sri Lanka too face problems of child abuse and violence against women. But we can be glad of one thing.

That a girl child, a daughter will always be treasured and welcomed in our society.

 

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