According to Afghan law, women can be married from age 16 and men from age 18. According to our Observers, it is not rare for underage girls to get married in Afghanistan, but such a huge age gap is unusual. On social media, many Afghans expressed shock at this union, as well as by the fact that the child was sold in exchange of a goat and some food.
Our Observer Fawad Ahmady, a journalist in Herat, filmed the videos below and published them on Facebook as well as in local media.
"The girl’s father said that he was having trouble making ends meet"
About 40 days ago Gharibgol was forced to marry the mullah of Obeh, the village where she lives with her family. She was sold to him by her father in exchange for a goat, a bag of rice, tea, sugar, and a few litres of cooking oil.
After their marriage, her husband took her to Firozkoh, in Ghor province, to stay at a distant relative’s house. This host first thought that Gharibgol was the mullah’s daughter. But then the host realized that he was undressing her at night. [Editor’s Note: According to tests later carried out by Ghor hospital, there was no sexual intercourse.] So he asked the mullah: she’s not your daughter? The mullah replied: no, she’s my wife; her father gave her to me. The host told a friend, who called the local women rights bureau for Ghor province. The bureau called the police, and called me, as well.
The next day, on July 31, police arrested the mullah, and then went to arrest Gharibgol’s father in his village. But before they took him away, local women attacked him and beat him up – I filmed the scene.
In this video, the father is dragged away from his daughter (whose face was blurred by France 24) and beaten by local women.
Gharibgol is now living with her mother in a safe house in Firozkoh. Negineh Khalili, the head of the women’s rights bureau for Ghor province, told me she will do her best to make sure that her father loses his parental rights and that Gharibgol is granted a divorce. She and the mullah were only married religiously, which makes things more difficult – a judge cannot divorce them; another imam must do that. And divorce remains very taboo in Afghanistan…
"This is just one of so many acts of violence against girls in Afghanistan"
Under the law, nobody is allowed to marry underage children. But imams like this mullah are quite respected, and don’t always face consequences. Moreover, there’s the problem of poverty – the girl’s father said that he was having trouble making ends meet and that selling her not only meant gaining a goat and two months’ worth of food, it meant one less mouth to feed. He tried to defend himself by saying that the mullah had promised he wouldn't sleep with his daughter until she was 18. I really hope that both men will serve time in jail.
This is just one of so many acts of violence against girls in Afghanistan. Most don’t make the news. But there have been a few cases that shocked the nation lately: one was the case of Zahra, a girl who was forced to marry at the age of eight. At age 18, last month, she was burned to death after by her husband’s family after a dispute with her parents. Then there was Rokhshana, 19, who was stoned to death last year. She had been married when she was underage and was accused of having sexual relationship with a boy of her own age. A video of her stoning drew shock from around the world.
According to a survey by the United Nations Population Fund carried out in 2011, in 46.4 percent of marriages in Afghanistan, the women are under 18 years of age. But according to many Afghan human rights activists, the real number is probably much higher – notably because couples in rural areas only have a religious ceremony, and therefore go uncounted by authorities.