Under Afghan Civil Law marriages have to be registered in the country. Yet few are registered. Girls are married well before they touch 16 years, the minimum age of marriage. For boys the legal age of marriage is 18 years. It is parents who arrange marriages. A couple is rarely given the right to decide.
In an attempt to voluntarily raise the age of marriage, the law gives a father the right to agree on a marriage for a 15 year old daughter but it is subject to two conditions: the girl cannot be a minor (under 15 years), and the father has to take into account his daughter’s future life and interests.
These are the rules. The reality is that child marriage is rampant. Parents are frequently forced by poverty to give their daughters in exchange marriages, or to pay a debt, or under pressure from powerful older men who can afford to give them the hefty Toyana or money for the exorbitant expense of the wedding.
The wedding ceremony is often conducted by a mula imam who is not aware even of the implications of under-age marriages on the woman’s physical and mental health.
Research findings have shown that it is the government’s responsibility to enforce the law on child marriage and tackle the reasons for its infringement.
Government authorities should encourage marriage registration in order to protect the rights of women.
The marriage certificate is issued by a court of law. It gives details like the names of the couple, their address and the dowry paid.
The dowry, according to Fawzia Amini, director of the Legal Department in Ministry of Women’s Affairs, has to be given to the woman in case the marriage fails. “The marriage certificate is like a property document for women. It gives them a legal claim,” she explains. According to her, the department receives many representations from women who have been deprived of their rights. However, nothing can be done unless the marriage was registered. “Currently the figure of registered marriages (in the country) is very low,” she says.
Parween Rahimi, who heads the women’s support and development programme at the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC), says “the registration protects the legal rights of the woman.” Moreover, “forced and under-age marriages cannot be held. And, should a man wish to get married for a second or third time, a marriage certificate enables the court to track down his first wife.” In the absence of any documentary proof of marriage, a man can marry again and again without even informing his wives.
Rahima Rezayee, director of the family court in Kabul, says often families bring a handwritten letter as a marriage certificate. The letter may be a promise made by the father-in-law of dowry, which could be a house or a piece of land even. “But when the issue of divorce arises the father-in-law denies giving dowry and considers the house as his property.” The law is that the woman has no claims on her father-in-law’s property; she can only make demands on her husband for maintenance or dowry.
The government has to urgently address the serious lack of awareness of the laws and regulations on marriage. “The civil law of the country is very clear that every marriage should be registered in the court, but the main problem in this regard is a lack of awareness,” says AIHRC’s Rahimi.
A 2008 study by the Women and Children Legal Research Foundation, titled ‘Early Marriage in Afghanistan’, makes a forceful case for government intervention in launching “public awareness campaigns throughout the country and in particular in the rural areas so as to increase the general awareness level on the detriments and the harms of child marriages.”
The report says: “Awareness programmes should clearly explain the stance of the government and law in this regard, and the public should be informed that the government will prosecute the violators of marriage laws.” Under the Civil Law, parents who force their daughters into underage marriages can be prosecuted.
But is the process of obtaining a marriage certificate simple?
Wagma Abdul Rahimzai, the head of Nehade Tahqiqate Zanan or the women’s research organisation, says National Identity Cards (NIC) are mandatory when you apply for marriage registration. “Most Afghan women do not have NIC.”
Officials dismiss the charge, and say that “when a boy and girl reach the legal age, and hold NICs they can turn to (apply) the court. The court begins the verification procedure, with the area residents, the agent and relevant district administration; all this is completed within two to three days, and the marriage certificate is issued.”
Sakeena Hussaini from Kabul was married five years ago in the presence of a mula imam in Kota City, South Pakhtunkhwa (Pakistan). She has applied for a registration certificate in Kabul. The rules require that she produce five witnesses.
“It has taken more than a week,” she says. “I never thought about getting a marriage certificate before. But now my husband is in a foreign country and he wants me to join him. I need to have a marriage certificate (essential to apply for documents like a passport and visa),” she says.
The Killid Group: Civil Law Protects Women’s Rights
See also: Their Homes are Not Safe for Women