Shakila smiles again

Aiding a child from being plunged into the bitter world of child marriage

By Feridoon Aryan
A girl walking down the hill
UNICEF Afghanistan
14 October 2018

Bamyan, Afghanistan 17 October 2018 – Shakila, 15, lives in a small village Rasheb Sabzdara, 70 kilometres from Bamyan city. Forced to get married by her family, Shakila developed depression, one of the many perils of child marriage.

“I didn’t know why there are many guests in the house, but my step-mother told me to get ready because I am getting married,” says Shakila with sadness.  ”I am scared of getting married.”

Shakila’s mother passed away, and her 45-year old father Hassan remarried.  Since marriage, her step-mother is looking for ways to get rid of Shakila.  One the fastest ways is to get the 15-year old girl married off to a 35-year man living with mental disability.

“We saved Shakila from marriage at a young age,” says Arif Mohiby, Head of Child Protection Action Network (CPAN) in Bamyan.    “Her step-mother wanted to marry her off to a 35-yearold man living with disability.”

When Mohiby visited Shakila’s house, she was in tears and  in a very distressful situation.  “As I asked her questions, tears would start pouring and she would not answer my questions,” adds Mohiby.

Ending child marriage

It took more than one month to convince the father and step-mother to put an end to this marriage.  Her step-mother was persistent, while Shakila was against the marriage.

”I informed Shakila’s father and step-mother, that getting their daughter married-off at a young age is a crime and a violation to children’s rights,” says Mohiby.  “And as parents and guardians of Shakila, you will be held accountable.”

Mohiby did not give up.  He sought the support of the village Mullah.  With community influencers, the Mohiby and the village Mullah drafted a pledge to be signed by Shakila’s father.

“I insisted on having this pledge drafted, committing Shakila’s father not to get her married before the age of 18 and without her consent, which was presented to the father by the Mullah” says Mohiby.   “This was the only way to get her father to agree to put an end to this marriage.”

A girl writing in her notebook
UNICEF Afghanistan

UNICEF has been working with the Government of Afghanistan, and community influencers, to raise awareness to the negative impact of child marriage.  UNICEF has also provided access to education, especially to girls who have lost out on their education.    A recent UNICEF study shows that out of the 3.7 million children out of school, 60 per cent are girls.  This reaches 85 per cent of out-of-school girls in worst affected provinces.

Outreach programme

The child protection team with support from UNICEF initiated a campaign against  child marriage in the village.  Few houses down the road from Shakila’s, lives 14-year old Zainab.

Zainab was promised into marriage but, her 47-year old mother, Zahra explains: “Zainab’s father attended one of these community outreach sessions and listened to the negative impact of child marriage.”  “After hearing about Shakila’s case, he decided to postpone the wedding till Zainab reaches 18.” Zahra got  married young.  She gave birth to seven children.

“I am against child marriage,’’ says Zahra.

“I strongly opposed it,” she explains. “I was a child when I first gave birth.  It was an ordeal and I don’t want my daughters to go through the same ordeals.”

Zainab was relieved when her father changed his mind.  “Now, I am happy,” she says with a smile.  “I can continue going to school without worrying about what will happen to me.”