“I lost my childhood. I loved school and going to school. But they wouldn’t let me.”
Those are the words of young Afghan Somaya. She was speaking about her husband and mother-in-law, new relations of hers at the time.
Somaya’s father Aminullah sold his daughter into marriage when she was 13. She had been attending seventh grade in Herat, where she lived with her family. But marriage changed that.
In exchange for Somaya’s union, Aminullah received about $3,300 from the family of her future husband.
The girl begged her new husband and his relatives to permit her to return to school. Somaya said, “They wouldn’t let me.” They shouted at her and beat her. Finally, after months of struggle, Somaya was permitted to legally separate from her husband.
Now she lives only with her mother and brother. Her father is in prison.
“My father never worked,” she said. “My life is better, especially now that my father is not here.”
Somaya and her mother sew clothes to make money. She says they keep their prices low so they get many customers. And now the two seamstresses control the money they earn.
Somaya said, “My father used to fight with us and take the money we’d earned by sewing. I had a lot of problems in the past.”
Hers is a relatively happy outcome to early marriage, which, UNICEF says, can limit the education, health and well-being of girls and the economic condition of their countries.
Afghanistan’s legal lowest age for marriage is 16. In 2017, the Afghan central government launched an action plan against child marriage.
Public education and economic empowerment play important parts in reducing the practice, said Dr. Sima Samar. She headed the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission. She told VOA in an email that if the commission gets a report about child marriage, “then we can intervene” through officials.
Research suggests the Afghan public’s support for early marriage is decreasing, even in poor, rural areas such as Bamyan province says Johns Hopkins University, in Baltimore, Maryland.
Researchers at the university’s Bloomberg School of Public Health questioned almost 1,000 12- to 15-year-old Afghans and about 500 parents in several provinces. Seventy-five percent of those youths were still in school and unmarried. All but 10 percent of the parents said children should complete secondary school. Another 40 percent said marriage should not take place until after that goal is reached.
Robert Blum led the research.
He told VOA, “Attitude shift does not in and of itself mean behavior change.” But, he added, “This is really a sea change for a country in one generation.”
Somaya has not returned to public education.
“At the moment, I haven’t decided whether to go back to school,” she said.
But she is learning and has plans.
Somaya said, “I’m getting tutored in reading the Quran. I plan to tutor students myself once I finish.”
I’m Caty Weaver.
Words in This Story
beg –v. to ask for something in a very serious, emotional way
customer –n. someone who buys goods or services from a business
seamstress –n. a woman who sews as a job
potential –n. the chance that something or someone can develop and become successful
attitude –n. a feeling or way of thinking that affects a person’s behavior
shift –v. a change
tutor –n. a teacher who works with one student
sea change –n. a big or sudden change