Pamela Constable and Sayed Salahuddin, Washington Post, July 31, 2016
A 6-year-old girl in rural Afghanistan was reportedly sold in marriage recently to a Muslim cleric in his 50s or 60s. She was later rescued and held in a shelter, while the man was arrested and jailed, Afghan officials said last week.
The incident, which came after several widely publicized cases of young brides being burned or stoned, highlights the enduring tribal practices of child marriage in Afghanistan, often involving abuse. The problem has persisted despite years of public education campaigns, women’s activists said, in part because poor parents need the income it brings.
Officials and relatives of the girl have given conflicting versions of the incident in northwestern Ghowr province, a remote and conservative area where Taliban militants have taken over several districts and imposed severe restrictions and punishments on women for moral offenses.
One account from local authorities said the arrested man, whom they identified as Mohammad Karim, told officials the child’s parents had “given” her to him as a “religious offering” about two weeks ago, while her family claimed she had been kidnapped. His name, age and status as a cleric are all still unconfirmed, however.
The provincial police chief, Mohammad Andarabi, told The Washington Post that the man, whom he named as Sayed Abdul Karim, had married the girl with the parents’ consent in front of witnesses, after they accepted food and cash in payment. Later the man tried to return her, he said, but was seized by residents and turned over to the police.
The arrest of Karim came less than a week after a pregnant 14-year-old bride in Ghowr was burned to death, arousing nationwide horror. Her parents said she had been tortured and set on fire by her husband’s family, while his relatives claimed she had died by self-immolation. Last November, a young bride in Ghowr was stoned to death after being accused of adultery.