Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Afghanistan: Outrage at Marriage of Six-Year-Old Girl

The case was so extreme that it led to a public outcry.
By Hassan Hakimi
  • Capital of Ghor - one of Afghanistan’s most underdeveloped provinces. (Photo: Hassan Hakimi)
    Capital of Ghor - one of Afghanistan’s most underdeveloped provinces. (Photo: Hassan Hakimi)

Women’s rights activists are calling for an example to be made of a 60-year-old Afghan cleric who married a six-year-old girl.

Sayed Abdul Karim, an imam at a mosque in the Obeh district of Herat, was sentenced to seven years in prison after he married Gharib Gul three months ago.  Her father, Mullah Abdul Qader, received a four-year term.

Campaigners say that these sentences are too lenient and warned that it would only add to the already grim state of women’s rights in the province.

Underage marriage is common in Afghanistan, but this case was so extreme that some resident of the village of Gehr, where the wedding took place, forced the imam to leave.

He was eventually arrested in a village near Firoz Koh, the provincial capital of neighbouring province Ghor.

Ghor is one of Afghanistan’s most underdeveloped provinces, with some remote areas entirely out of government control.

Underage and forced marriages are a major problem along with “baad”, the custom of settling disputes by handing over a girl to the family of the perceived victim of a crime.

However, once again, Abdul Karim’s marriage caused a public outcry.

Jan Mohammad, a resident of the village of Darrah Qazi, said that Abdul Karim came to stay with him on the night of July 25 and introduced the small girl with him as his daughter.

 “I sent them to the guestroom and served them dinner,” Mohammad said. “When I went to talk to Sayed Karim to ask if he needed anything, the lights were on. I noticed through the window that he was naked…I went into the room, tied his hands and informed the police. People gathered around were angry and beat him. Then the police took him away.”

Mohammad Azim Wakili, head of the provincial criminal investigations team, said, “Local people called us on July 25 and informed us that they were holding a 60-year-old man accused of having intercourse with a six-year-old girl. Our police went to the area and brought them both to the criminal investigations’ office. We started investigating and we found that this 60-year-old man really had married six-year-old Gharib Gul.”

Wakili said that hospital doctors said that the six-year-old was psychologically damaged but had not been physically harmed.

Father-of-five Abdul Qader confessed that he had sold his daughter to Abdul Karim because he had been experiencing financial problems.

Abdul Karim, who had never been married before, confirmed this when questioned by police.

“I married her in the presence of 40 residents of Gehr village in Obeh district of Herat, and I gave Gharib Gul’s father two goats, a parcel of rice, and a bottle of oil and some sweets in return,” he said.

Gehr elder Haji Abdul Zaher told IWPR, “When Qadar gave his daughter to Sayed Karim, we disagreed and opposed his decision because the girl was too little, but he didn’t listen to us. Later we heard that Sayed Abdul Karim had been arrested because of his marriage to a child by police in Ghor province.”

Public anger meant the case against the two men was processed exceptionally fast.

On August 11, Ghor’s provincial court sentenced Karim to seven years imprisonment and Qader to four years.

Ghulam Hazrat Hadid, head of the Firoz Koh court, said, “These two people have been sentenced to long-term imprisonment… but it is not the final decision because both parties can appeal to the court of cppeal for a reconsideration.”

Some were happy that the case had been handled so rapidly.

Khudayar Waqif, head of the Association of Civil Organisations in Ghor, said, “This is the first time that judicial and security organisations have dealt with a case in less than a month. If other cases are also handled this quickly, the number of crimes of violence will decrease.”

However, other campaigners said that the sentences were woefully inadequate.

Farida Naseri, head of women’s affairs at the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) in Ghor, said that Abdul Karim’s seven-year prison term was not enough.

She also warned that he might be released even sooner in an amnesty.  

“One of our greatest and most common problems in Afghanistan, especially in Ghor, are underage marriages, and when a six-year-old child is married to a 60-year-old man it is a serious violation of human rights,” Naseri continued. “These marriages destroy the girls psychologically and sometimes even leads to their death.”

Masoma Anwari is the head of Ghor’s women’s affairs department and one of only a handful of female civil servants in the province.

She said that gender violence is particularly bad in Ghor, noting that some 80 per cent women in the province were married against their will. The vast majority of women were deprived of their inheritance rights and any access to justice, while at least three-quarter of girls in the province were deprived of an education.

(See Afghanistan: Sold for a Herd of Cows).

In a case that won international attention last year, a 19-year-old girl named Rukhshana was stoned to death in Ghor by a group of armed men.

(See Summary Courts Deal Out Brutal Justice in Afghanistan's Ghor Province).

In June, a married woman named Aziz Gul was shot dead in Ghor after trying to run away with another man.

Only last month, a four-months pregnant 14-year-old girl was burned to death.

The family of Zahra, who died in July in Kabul’s Isteqlal hospital, accused her in-laws of setting her alight, a charge they denied.

Anwari emphasised she wanted to see real justice in this case.

“If Gharib Gul’s case is not handled properly, I will resign,” she added.

Ghor women’s rights activist Latifa said, “Women are stoned, shot, and burnt in this province, and 70 per cent of the girls’ schools are closed, which we are furious about.”

She said that most perpetrators of violence against women in Ghor were allowed to go free.

“When I heard that a 60-year-old had married a 6-year-old girl, and saw that this innocent girl trembled in fear and cried, I feel deep pain.”

Gul Bibi, another Ghor activist, said that the government had failed to live up to any of its promises on women’s right.

She said that Kabul’s rhetoric was only intended to impress the international community, with nothing practical being achieved on the ground.

She added, “As long as these awful cultural traditions rule society, we will not be able to give women their rights.”

This report was produced under IWPR’s Promoting Human Rights and Good Governance in Afghanistan initiative, funded by the European Union Delegation to Afghanistan.