KABUL - Religious scholars joined the call on International Day of the Girl Child to end child marriage, saying that mullahs should know that under-age marriage is prohibited in Islam.
The United Nations urged the international community to consider the "girl child" on October 11 as part of a global effort to end the practice of child marriage which poses a high risk to the child.
Scholars including Sayed Mohammad Hassan Sharif Balkhabi said Thursday that mullahs should give weight to the age of the two people getting married before declaring them husband and wife, adding that young teenage marriage was not allowed.
"The mullahs should meet the boys and girls before declaring them husband and wife and ask them if they agree to the wedding, otherwise it is prohibited in Islam," Balkhabi told TOLOnews.
According to UN statistics, as many as 40 percent of the girls married in Afghanistan are younger than 18, while 15 percent are under 15 years of age.
"Early marriage is a fundamental violation of human rights and impacts all aspects of a girl's life," a group of UN organisations said in a statement to mark the day.
"Child marriage is defined as any marriage carried out below the age of 18 years, before the girl is psychologically ready to shoulder the responsibilities of marriage and physically prepared to bear children," the statement said.
"Girls aged 10-14 are five times more likely to die in pregnancy or childbirth than women aged 20-24," it added.
Afghanistan's maternal death rate is said to be 327 per 100,000 live births – one of the worst in the world.
Afghan women's rights activist Noor Zia Wahid on Thursday said that parents are not thinking about the future of their daughters when they force them to marry young.
"The families are only thinking how they can marry off their daughters for money – they never think of their futures," she told TOLOnews.
The US Foreign Secretary Hillary Clinton also expressed deep concern over the early marriage of young girls saying that forced and early marriage can bring serious threats and challenges to the life of the girls.
"Every year, 10 million girls under the age of 18 become child brides, many of them under the age of 16," Clinton said, at the US State Department gathering held to raise awareness on the issue. "Many of those girls are forced into early marriage which robs them of the opportunity to continue their education and it threatens their health and it traps them in lives of poverty. The evidence shows us, and common sense would show us as well, that education can delay and even prevent child marriage. It can raise incomes and it certainly can improve health."
Human Rights Watch researcher in Afghanistan Heather Barr told TOLOnews that ending child marriage should be enforced under the presidential decree approved in 2009 to end violence against women.
"The government has already taken an important step which is that in 2009 President Karzai signed the law of Elimination of Violence against women. This an important step but means nothing if the law is not actually enforced, and till now there is a real lack of effort to enforce this law," Barr said, adding that child marriage, forced marriage, domestic violence including rape, and the selling of girls and women are all common forms of cruelty against women which the Elimination of Violence Against Women law was meant to prohibit.
In Afghanistan, many girls and women facing serious violence or threats of forced marriage from their families are turning more and more to "safe shelters", homes set up mostly by the government to protect them from the threats.
One of the girls in a shelter in Kabul told TOLOnews on Thursday: "In our area, for our families, they place more value on money, not their children." (Tolo News)