State Department: 60% of Afghan Girls Are Married Before 16

Melanie Arter | March 14, 2014 | 12:12pm EDT
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Birbal, 16, left, and Anita, 11, center, after their marriage at Jalpa Mata temple in Rajgarh, India. (AP Photo/Prakash Hatvalne)

( – More than 12 years after the U.S. first invaded Afghanistan to overthrow the Taliban and deprive al Qaeda of a base operations, the sexual abuse of Afghanistan children has reached an all-time high, according to the U.S. State Department.

The department’s 2013 Country Report on Human Rights in Afghanistan, which was released this month, says that 60 percent of girls in Afghanistan are married before their 16th birthday.

“Despite a law setting the legal minimum age for marriage at 16 for girls and 18 for boys, international and local observers estimated that 60 percent of girls were married before the age of 16,” the State Department said in its most recent human rights report.

The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) reported an increase in rapes in 2013, with most victims being children. In fact, sexual abuse of children reached an all-time high, the commission reported in June, according to the State Department.

The Elimination of Violence Against Women law or EVAW, which was drafted in 2008 and put into effect by presidential decree in 2009, makes violence against women, including rape, battery or beating, child and forced marriage, humiliation, intimidation and refusal of food a crime.

During debate over the EVAW law, “conservative politicians publicly stated that it was un-Islamic to ban marriages of girls younger than 16,” the report said. Poor families would customarily pledge their daughters for marriage in exchange for “bride money.”

Child bride Sahar Gul became the bruised and bloodied face of women's rights in Afghanistan. (AP Photo/Musadeq Sadeq)

“Some girls as young as six or seven were promised in marriage, with the understanding that the actual marriage would be delayed until the child reached puberty. Reports indicated, however, that this delay was rarely observed and that young girls were sexually violated by the groom and the by older men in the family, particularly if the groom was also a child,” the State Department said.


According to the National Institutes of Health, normal puberty in girls typically “begins between ages and 13” and precocious or premature puberty begins before age eight in girls.

A marriage contract in Afghanistan requires verification that the bride was 16, “but only a small fraction of the population had birth certificates,” the report noted.

Those who arrange forced or underage marriages may be sentenced to no less than two years in prison, but the law’s implementation “remained limited,” the State Department’s report said.

“A survey of married women between the ages of 20 and 24 found that 39 percent had been married before the age of 18. Very few marriages were registered, leaving forced marriages outside legal control,” the human rights report said. Furthermore, those who sought help under the EVAW law because of forced marriage or rape were subjected to virginity tests.

“Although pornography is a crime, child pornography is not specifically prohibited by law,” the report noted.

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