Afghanistan: Child Bride’s Abuse Highlights Plight of Women and Girls

15-year-old Sahar Gul was married seven months ago, even though the minimum age for marriage is 16 in Afghan law. She is now recovering at a hospital from domestic violence and abuse allegedly committed by her husband and in-laws. Her plight has sparked international concern for the continued efforts for women’s rights in Afghanistan.

Prior to the 2001 United States-led invasion, Afghanistan was controlled by the Taliban, a regime which banned women from work and school. After 10 years of advocacy, women now make up 27% of the Afghan parliament and 40% of the elementary school population. Maternity death rates from dropped by 66%, and a federal law passed in 2009 protects Afghan women from violence.

However, “there is still a long way to go,” according to Georgette Gagnan, the United Nation’s Human Rights Director in Afghanistan. For instance, the 2009 law was used for indictments in only 155 of the over 2,200 crimes reported in 12 months. Further, while the minimum legal marriage age is 16, United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) estimates that 50% of girls are married by 15. The United Nations Development Program’s Gender Inequality Index ranks Afghanistan as the 6th worst country for women.

“I think there is now a sense of awareness about women’s rights. People seem to be changing,” says Fawzia Kofi, lawmaker and head of the Women’s Affairs Commission of the Afghanistan Parliament.  Some activists fear that the federal government’s negotiations with the Taliban to end the continued violence may force the country to take steps backward in its fight for women’s rights.

Compiled fromChild Bride’s Torture Shocks Afghans, Shows Women’s Rights Shortfall 10 Years after TalibanThe Washington Post (4 January 2012).