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Afghan Authorities Annul 7-Year-Old's Marriage-For-Money, Launch Investigation

Debt and penury often force many Afghan families to marry off girls for money at a very young age. (file photo)
Authorities in the Afghan province of Jowzjan have annulled the marriage of a 7-year-old girl whose father admits giving her away in return for the equivalent of $2,000.

An investigation has also been launched against the father, Ramadan, who like many Afghans goes by one name, as well as the groom and the cleric who reportedly presided over the ceremony.

The father blamed his action on poverty that has plagued his family.

"We didn't have a place to live, we were hungry, we had debts," Ramadan said. "I regretted doing this the day I did it. I regret it now."

He acknowledged marrying off his underage daughter in return for around $2,000 and foodstuffs, including rice and wheat.

Jowzjan police officials say they opened the criminal case after Ramadan's wife complained to local human rights groups and officials that her eldest daughter was being subjected to violence by her in-laws.

"My daughter was married for nearly one year, and during this time she ran away from her home twice," said the mother, who didn't give her name. "Her husband beat her frequently. I didn't want my daughter to go back to her marital home, but her husband would come and take her back by force."

Police have arrested Ramadan and his 35-year-old son-in-law, Asadullah, as well as the mullah who conducted an Islamic marriage ceremony for the couple.

The mullah, Mawlawi Noor, who was released on bail, insists the parents lied to him about the girl's age.

Many Afghans do not have birth certificates, and it's not uncommon for religious marriage ceremonies to be conducted without the bride's or groom's identity documents.

Instead, two witnesses and two representatives of each party are invited to be present at the ceremony to testify about the couple's real names, ages, and marital status, if the mullah requires such information.

Poverty, Drug Addiction

According to Ewazali Saberi, a children's rights advocate for Afghanistan's Independent Human Rights Commission, the authorities should also punish the witnesses and the family representatives for "withholding information about the girl's age" during the marriage ceremony.

"The two witnesses and the two family representatives should be held responsible for their actions," he said. "Police haven't investigated these people so far."

Authorities have annulled the marriage as the investigation continues.

"This marriage violates both Afghan laws and religious norms," said Abdulmalek Mamnun, the head of the criminal investigation department of Jowzjan Province.

Human rights groups as well as women and children's organizations have been involved in the case.

Maghferat Samimi, the head of the regional Human Rights Organization, said "locking up a few culprits doesn't resolve the problem; we need to do more."

"The father of the girl is a drug addict," she added. "He doesn't understand his children's rights. Poverty in one hand, and drug addiction in the other, has led the man to take such actions against his own children."

In a joint meeting this week in the provincial capital, Sheberghan, local authorities, court representatives, and human rights officials decided to send Ramadan to a drug rehabilitation center in neighboring Balkh Province.

The mother was placed in a Sheberghan safe house for women, while her four children have been transferred to a nearby children's home.

Local authorities say they are considering "finding a suitable job for the mother -- in the women's shelter or children's home -- to help the family rebuild their lives."

Written by Farangis Najibullah based on reports by RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan correspondent in Sheberghan Alem Rahmanyar