Afghan Authorities Probe Child Marriage

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afghan_girls_marriageAuthorities in the northern Afghan province of Jowzjan have launched a probe against a father, who has acknowledged forcing his seven-year-old daughter to marry a man five times her age.

Ramadan, who like many Afghans goes by one name, blamed his action on poverty that has plagued his family.

“We didn’t have a place to live, we were hungry, we had debts,” he said. “I regretted doing this the day I did it. I regret it now.”

He acknowledged marrying off his underage daughter in return of some $2,000, and foodstuffs, including rice and wheat.

Jowzjan police officials say a criminal case was opened after Ramadan’s wife complained to local human rights groups and officials that her eldest daughter was being subjected to violence by her in-laws.

“My daughter was married for nearly one year, and during this time she ran away from her home twice,” said the mother, who didn’t give her name. “Her husband beat her frequently. I didn’t want my daughter to go back to her marital home but her husband would come and take her back by force.”

Police have arrested Ramadan and his 35-year-old son-in-law, Asadullah, as well as the mullah who conducted an Islamic marriage ceremony for the couple.

The mullah, Mawlawi Noor, who was released on bail, insists the parents lied to him about the girl’s age.

Many Afghans do not have birth certificates, and it’s not uncommon for religious marriage ceremonies to be conducted without the bride’s and the groom’s identity documents.

Instead, two witnesses and two representatives of each party are invited to be present at the marriage ceremony to testify about the couple’s real names, ages, and marital status, if the mullah requires such information.

Poverty, Drug Addiction

women-with-child-on-streetAccording to Ewazali Saberi, a children’s rights advocate for Afghanistan’s Independent Human Rights Commission, the authorities should also punish the witnesses and the family representatives for “withholding information about the girl’s age” during the marriage ceremony.

“The two witnesses and the two family representatives should be held responsible for their actions,” he said. “Police haven’t investigated these people so far.”

Authorities have annulled the marriage, as the investigation continues.

“This marriage violates both Afghan laws and religious norms,” said Abdulmalek Mamnun, the head of the criminal investigation department of Jowzjan Province.

Human rights groups as well as women and children’s organizations have been involved in the case.

Maghferat Samimi, the head of the regional Human Rights Organization said “locking up a few culprits doesn’t resolve the problem, we need to do more.”

“The father of the girl is a drug addict,” she added. “He doesn’t understand his children’s rights. Poverty in one hand, and drug addiction in the other, has led the man to take such actions against his own children.”

In a joint meeting this week in the provincial capital, Sheberghan, local authorities, court representatives, and human rights officials decided to send Ramadan to a drug rehabilitation center in neighboring Balkh Province.

The mother was placed in a Sheberghan safe house for women, while her four children have been transferred to a nearby children’s home.

Local authorities say they are considering “finding a suitable job for the mother — in the women’s shelter or children’s home — to help the family rebuild their lives.”

Afghanistan’s government has backed away from a proposal to reintroduce public stoning as a punishment for adultery after the leak of a draft law stirred up a storm of international condemnation.

The president, Hamid Karzai, said in an interview that the grim penalty, which became a symbol of Taliban brutality when the group were in power, would not be coming back.

“It is not correct. The minister of justice has rejected it,” he told Radio Free Europe, days after the UK minister Justine Greening urged him to prevent the penalty becoming law.

Afghan-women-with-their-children-enjoy-a-view-over-KabulAfghanistan’s penal code dates back over three decades. The government is drawing up a new one to unify fragmented rules and cover crimes missed out when the last version was written, such as money laundering, and offences that did not even exist at the time, such as internet crimes.

The justice minister presiding over the reform is an outspoken conservative who last year denounced the country’s handful of shelters for battered women as brothels.

As part of the process, a committee tasked with looking at sharia law came up with draft legislation that would have condemned married adulterers to the slow and gruesome death; unmarried people who had sex would be flogged.

But after several days of silence in the face of growing international outcry, the justice ministry said in a statement that although stoning had been proposed it would not appear in the new legislation because there was “no need to regulate the issue”.

The country’s penal code already encompasses sharia law, but some controversial aspects of traditional punishments such as stoning have never been put on the books in Afghanistan.

“The legality of the crime and punishment is fully addressed and there is no need to regulate the issue in the new code. So, the ministry of justice does not intend to regulate it in the new draft code,” the statement said.

Fragile gains

Rights groups who first highlighted the draft law warned that although the government’s quashing of the proposal was good news, its emergence in the first place was a sign of how fragile gains in human rights over the last decade had been, particularly for women.

Although stoning is listed as a punishment for adulterers of both sexes, in countries where it has been used in recent years women have often appeared on the execution ground alone.

As foreign troops head home before a 2014 deadline for the end of combat action in Afghanistan, and political attention fades with it, many activists fear that years of painstaking progress are at risk of being swept away.

“Of course it’s a huge relief that the government appears eager to disown this proposal now, but this is not an aberration that appeared out of the blue,” said Heather Barr of Human Rights Watch.

“It is just the latest in a long string of efforts to roll back women’s rights over the last half year, many of which have been successful. It is time for donors to wake up and realise that if there is not constant pressure on the Afghan government to respect women’s rights, there will be no women’s rights.”

RELATED: Stoning Adulterers

Written by Farangis Najibullah based on reports by RFE/RL’s Radio Free Afghanistan correspondent in Sheberghan Alem Rahmanyar

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