Getting married or going to school? – Finland's role in Afghanistan
The World Bank estimates that every year as many as 15 million children globally are forced to marry before they reach 18 years. This means more than 40,000 girls every day. Wednesday 11 October marks the International Day of the Girl Child.
The tradition of child marriage is strong also in Afghanistan. According to Unicef, nearly half of Afghan women marry before they turn 18 years and more than every tenth of them marry before they are 15. Boys are also at risk of being forced to early marriage.
The consequences of child marriages and the impacts of early pregnancies in particular are serious. In Afghanistan, maternal mortality rates are among the highest in the world: statistically one woman out of fifty dies at childbirth.
Girls who have been forced to marry often drop out of school, which for its part weakens their employment prospects later in life.
Poverty and a poor security situation strengthen the phenomenon, which is based on conservative and harmful traditions.
Supported by the UN Population Fund UNFPA, Afghanistan launched the National Action Plan to Eliminate Early and Child Marriage earlier this year. Finland also participates in the monitoring of its implementation.
The Action Plan emphasises guidance directed to both children and their parents and the traditional authorities – such as religious leaders – as well as cooperation between different public authorities.
Ending the practice requires breaking the culture of impunity as a part of the change in attitudes.
Afghanistan is Finland’s biggest partner of development cooperation. By promoting girls’ schooling and improving access to reproductive health services, Finland contributes to bringing the tradition of child marriages to an end in Afghanistan.
The author works as a Special Adviser on development policy at the Embassy of Finland in Kabul.