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Afghan girls at increased risk of child marriage: UNICEF

TORONTO – Months after the Taliban captured Kabul on August 15, aid organizations are sounding the alarm that Afghanistan is plunging into growing poverty with young girls believed to be trafficked. into child marriages so that their families can survive.

The United Nations says that 22% of Afghanistan’s 38 million residents are on the verge of starvation and another 36 percent are facing severe food insecurity because they cannot afford food.

In a statement this month, UNICEF said it was “deeply concerned” by reports that child marriage in Afghanistan is on the rise, as families sell their young daughters to provide food.

“We have received credible reports of families offering daughters 20 days or older for future marriage in exchange for dowry,” the statement read.

Even before the Taliban took over, UNICEF said that its partners had registered 183 child marriages and 10 child trafficking cases between 2018 and 2019 in Herat and Baghdis provinces alone. According to reports, the children ranged in age from 6 months to 17 years old.

UNICEF estimates that 28% of Afghan women aged 15 to 49 were married before the age of 18.

“Since most teenage girls have yet to return to school, the risk of child marriage is now even higher. Education is often the best defense against negative coping mechanisms such as child marriage and child labor,” the statement continued.

Although it is illegal to marry children under the age of 15 in Afghanistan, it is a common practice, especially in rural areas. According to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), nearly 10% of Afghan girls aged 15 to 19 give birth every year due to little or no access to contraceptive or reproductive health services.

Complications in childbirth, due to underdevelopment, lack of health care and the inability to consent to sex, mean pregnancy mortality among girls from the age of 10, UNFPA said. 15 to 19 years old is more than double that of women aged 20 to 24.

The COVID-19 pandemic, the Taliban takeover and the coming winter have made it extremely difficult for families to survive. Nearly 677,000 people have been displaced in 2021 due to fighting, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Many of them live in tents or makeshift shelters in internally displaced camps.

International funding, which once made up a large portion of the Afghan government’s budget, has dried up as much of the world does not recognize Taliban rule. In addition, the Afghan economy is estimated to have shrunk 40% in the past three months.

The United Nations Development Program, the World Health Organization and UNICEF are the three main aid organizations whose donors are using the money to avoid money ending up in the Taliban’s coffers.

The United Nations World Food Program, which provides direct cash aid and food to families, provided aid to 9 million people in 2020. That number has grown to nearly 14 million by 2021, with the agency saying it will need $220 million per month to achieve. 23 million people by 2022, according to the Associated Press.

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With files from the Associated Press and CNN

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