Forced Marriage Ban Possible

Forced Marriage Ban Possible

Article 54 of the draft constitution says the state will take steps to eliminate "traditions contrary to the principles of the sacred religion of Islam", according to which a woman's consent is required for a marriage to be legal.

Marriages are forced on women in Afghanistan for a number of reasons: young and beautiful girls are sold off at a good price; parents sometimes get their daughters married to avoid the expense of caring for them; widows may be compelled to marry the brother of their deceased husband; and sisters must sometimes pay for the crimes of their brothers by marrying their victims.

Article 26 could stop the latter, as it specifies that only the criminal should pay for his actions.

Rana Hamidzada, head of the women's prison in Kabul, said she was happy to see these articles in the draft constitution - she has had many prisoners who were deemed criminals because they ran away from forced marriages.

Islamic and civil law rules that, under certain circumstances, abandoning one's family is a crime. But a women who chooses to leave home rather than being forced into a marriage can risk more than imprisonment. In numerous cases, they have tracked by their families and killed for dishonouring them.

Hamidzada, who has a master's degree in criminology and has worked at police headquarters for much of the last 12 years, said that about 30 per cent of the cases of women arrested since the interim administration are linked to forced marriages.

She tells the story of a typical case - Pari Gul, a 15-year-old girl, who was married to an older, mute man because he gave her father a lot of money. Pari Gul finally escaped from her husband’s house in Ghazni and secretly married another man. Her father informed the police and they arrested her.

Judge Fozia Amin, deputy chief of women's rights in the women's affairs ministry, cites a current case of a 10-year-old girl who was married off to a man who already had two wives.

The girl escaped to her parents' house after being beaten by her husband so badly that she had psychological problems and her legs were damaged. "Though she was 10-years-old, she looked like an old woman," Amin told IWPR. Her office convinced the girl's husband to let her go back to her parents.

Shaima Muheb, another investigator who deals with cases of women running away from home, estimates that 50 per cent of marriages in Afghanistan are compulsory, in violation of religious law. “From Islamic Shariat’s point of view, not only young girls but even widows should give approval for their marriage,” she said.

Mohammed Zarif Azhar, a law faculty instructor at Kabul University, agreed, “The esteemed prophet Hazrat Mohammed gave this right to Hazrat Zainab [his daughter]. We call Hazrat Zainab by the name Independent Zainab because she was given independence in getting married.”

Hasina Sulaiman and Lailuma Saded are participating in IWPR's Loya Jirga reporting project.

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