Pregnant Afghan teen's death sparks call to end child marriage

Agence France-Presse
An internally displaced Afghan girl looks on as she attends a class inside a shelter at a refugee camp in Kabul, Afghanistan May 31, 2016.
An internally displaced Afghan girl looks up during a class inside a shelter at a refugee camp in Kabul, Afghanistan on May 31, 2016.
Mohammad Ismail

Right groups Wednesday called on the Afghan government to end the scourge of child marriages, after a 14-year-old pregnant girl was burned to death in the latest case of violence against women.

The family of the girl, Zahra, says she was tortured and set alight by her husband's family, according to reports citing local officials in central Ghor province, where the incident occurred.

Relatives of the teenager's husband insist her death was by self-immolation.

Zahra, four months pregnant, was also said to be a victim of "baad", the forced marriage of a girl to a family to settle a dispute, a practice prevalent in rural Afghanistan.

Her death last week has sparked shock waves in Afghanistan, with rights groups demanding that the Afghan government bring an end to child marriages.

"This is a truly heartbreaking situation in which Zahra faced suffering beyond comprehension," Save the Children said in a statement.

"Zahra's is an extreme case of what can happen when a child is forcibly married off, however we know her marriage was not unique — the practice is all too common in many parts of the country."

Child marriages are on the rise in Afghanistan, according to the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC).

"In some regions because of insecurity and poverty the families marry off their daughters at a very early age to get rid of them," AIHRC chief Sima Samar told reporters this week.

Afghan civil law sets the legal age of marriage at 16 for girls, yet 15 percent of Afghan women under 50 years old were married before their 15th birthday and almost half were married before the age of 18, according to Save the Children.

"This is such a fundamental breach of a child's basic rights," the charity said.

"Zahra and so many other children who are married off at a young age are deprived of their right to education, safety and the ability to make choices about their future."

Zahra's death comes after a young woman was stoned to death in Ghor last November after being accused of adultery.

And in March last year a woman named Farkhunda was savagely beaten and set ablaze in central Kabul after being falsely accused of burning a Koran.

The mob killing triggered angry nationwide protests and drew global attention to the endemic violence facing Afghan women.