Monday, August 1, 2016

A case in Afghanistan has pitted a religious figure against the outraged parents of a 6-year-old girl, underscoring the ongoing problems surrounding child marriages there

Sayed Mohammad Karim, a mullah in the Ghor province said to be in his 50s, has been arrested and charged with stealing the young girl away and marrying her — allegations he denies. "The girl was given to me as a gift and we were married so I could raise her," says Karim, who notes the girl's parents attended their wedding ceremony. But that's not what the parents are saying, per the deputy police commander of Ghor. "We spoke to her parents and they strongly deny they attended the wedding," he says. "[They] told me their daughter was kidnapped." Complicating things are the sticky rules governing child marriage in Afghanistan: The country's civil law says a girl has to be 16 to be legally married, but citizens may also follow Sharia law, which has been interpreted to allow children to be wed. These early marriages can pose dangerous health hazards for young girls: Human Rights Watch — which cites a 2010 mortality survey that says 53% of Afghan women ages 25 to 49 were wed by the age of 18 — notes that early marriage means early pregnancies, which can cause injury and even death if their bodies aren't ready for childbirth or if they're in rural areas with sub-par medical care. But such "gifts" are common in the country's remotest regions — not only girls, but also cash, property, and livestock — to curry favor with local religious leaders. Perhaps the only bright spot in this story: Karim insists that he didn't have sexual intercourse with the little girl, which a local doctor says appears to be true. But despite the doctor's assertion that the "examination showed that the girl had endured no physical or psychological harm," the head of the Ghor women's affairs department says: "This girl does not speak, but only repeats one thing: 'I am afraid of this man.'"

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