On March 23, 2022, the first school year here in Afghanistan, I was excited about returning and eagerly looked forward to seeing my classmates and teachers again. I along with other students showed up bright and early only to find the doors closed and armed Taliban guards. My heart sank. I couldn’t believe it. I had prayed to Allah to allow me to continue my studies. So, I was not prepared to be turned away from my school at gunpoint.
I felt as if my whole world had collapsed around me. My future was taken away from me. What was I going to do? I couldn’t go back to school and pursue my education like I wanted to. I had dreams of becoming a teacher but that wasn’t going to happen now.
Why was this happening to me, to other girls? Why was the government doing this to us? Why were they are denying us our rights to have an education. Why were the boys permitted to return to class since last year September? It wasn’t fair. In Islam, women, like men, are obligated to pursue knowledge. In the Quran, Allah orders both sexes to increase their knowledge and condemns those who are not learned. So, now because of gender inequality, girls were going to be condemned for not being learned.
I returned home with a very heavy heart and in tears. What was my future going to be like now without an education? Would the ban on girls’ high school education becomes permanent? We would eventually be excluded from all sectors of the society under the guise of religion and what then? At that moment, my future looked very bleak.
Months later, my situation didn’t improve, in fact, it got worse. My family is thinking of doing what other families are doing or forced to do–marry off girls in order to shift their support to the prospective husbands. I didn’t want that. I didn’t want to get married–at least not for a long time. I wanted to be in school where I belonged and finish my education. I wanted to teach. I pray to Allah that he will not allow my parents to give me away in marriage.
The above story is fiction but it is the reality for many Afghani girls. It is feared that, “As most teenage girls are still not allowed to go back to school, the risk of child marriage is now even higher. Education is often the best protection against negative coping mechanisms such as child marriage and child labour.” UNICEF is working to raise awareness of the dangers of early marriages among girls because if they marry before they turn 18, they are less likely to remain in school and more likely to experience domestic violence, discrimination, abuse and poor mental health. They are also more vulnerable to complications in pregnancy and childbirth.
The COVID pandemic has made the situation worse and families who are sinking further and further into poverty and acting out of desperation. They are resorting to putting their children to work and marry to their daughters off at a young age. What can be done to help these girls to protect them from such a horrible fate?
UNICEF have come up with the following actions:
- They have started a cash assistance programme to help offset the risk of hunger, child labour and child marriage among the most vulnerable families. They plan to scale up this and other social services programmes in the coming months.
- They will also work with religious leaders to ensure that they are not involved in the “Nekah” (the marriage contract) for young girls.
- They will call on central, provincial and local authorities to take concrete measures to support and safeguard the most vulnerable families and girls. They will urge the de facto authorities to prioritize the reopening of schools for all secondary school girls and allow all-female teachers to resume their jobs without any further delays.
For our part, we can continue to pray for the future of these girls and to raise awareness. We can support organizations like UNICEF which is trying to prevent families from offering daughters as young as 20 days old up for future marriage in return for a dowry. “The future of an entire generation is at stake.”