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2.12.2. Harmful traditional marriage practices

Last update: December 2020
*Minor updates added: April 2022

Due to lack of recent information on the topic, the analysis concerning this topic includes only minor updates in the current version of the country guidance. When examining the international protection needs of women, please consider the most up-to-date country of origin information concerning the Taliban’s policy towards women. Particular attention should also be given to constraints in reporting violence against women following the Taliban takeover.

COI summary

Marriage in Afghanistan operates on a spectrum from choice to force. Coerced marriage, especially of girls and women, is a frequent occurrence in Afghanistan [Key socio-economic indicators 2017, 4.1; Society-based targeting, 3.4].

Traditional marriage practices are common and can often create or lead to situations of forced marriage and violence against women. Such common practices include:

  • betrothal as a child, especially under the Pashtunwali
  • polygamy
  • exchanging of unmarried daughters between families
  • baad, whereby girls are bartered to settle family debts or disputes, particularly among Pashtuns and in rural areas.
  • etc.

[Society-based targeting, 3.4; Criminal law and customary justice, 3.2].

The current humanitarian situation in Afghanistan, following the Taliban takeover, reportedly also forces families to negative coping strategies, such as marrying off young girls [Country Focus 2022, 2.3].

According to previous Afghan civil law, as well as Islamic law, consent was required in order to enter into marriage. Afghan civil law further stipulated that the minimum age was 16. However, this law was not effectively implemented in practice. The Taliban’s decree on women’s rights of 3 December 2021 stated that women should not be forced into marriage. In general, people in Afghanistan have little opportunity to make their own choices with regard to marriage. Child marriage is a widespread practice, mainly occurring in rural areas. According to a survey conducted in 2015, 45 % of Afghan women are married by the age of 18 [Society-based targeting, 3.4; Country Focus 2022, 2.3].

Baad was prohibited by Article 25 of the 2009 EVAW, but this law was rarely implemented or enforced. No cases of arrest and/or prosecution of jirga elders or family members were reported in Afghanistan in connection with the baad practice as of August 2019 [Criminal law and customary justice, 3.3].

Refusal of marriage arrangements or proposals can lead to violence for the women and girls concerned and/or for their families and to blood feuds [Society-based targeting, 3.4, 3.7.; Criminal law and customary justice, 3.3]. According to a Taliban official, most women in Kabul’s women prison were detained for elopement charges [Country Focus 2022, 1.5.2].

Traditional marriage practices can also be linked to other forms of violence, such as battery and sexual abuse [Society-based targeting, 3.4, 3.5].

Already, before the takeover, women seeking protection faced a gender-biased and discriminatory justice system [Key-socio-economic indicators 2017, 3.8; see also the section 2.12.1 Violence against women and girls: overview].

Risk analysis

Forced marriage and child marriage amount to persecution. Other traditional marriage practices in Afghanistan could also amount to persecution, depending on the specific practice and the individual circumstances of the applicant. They could, furthermore, be linked to other forms of violence, such as gender-based and honour-based violence.

The individual assessment of whether there is a reasonable degree of likelihood for the applicant to face persecution should take into account risk-impacting circumstances, such as: young age (in particular, under 16), area of origin (particularly affecting rural areas), ethnicity (e.g. Pashtun), perception of traditional gender roles in the family, poor socio-economic situation of the family, local power/influence of the (potential) husband and his family or network, etc.

Nexus to a reason for persecution

Available information indicates that persecution of this profile may be for reasons of membership of a particular social group. For example, refusal to enter into forced or child marriage may result in honour-based violence for reasons of membership of a particular social group in relation to a common background which cannot be changed (refusal to marry) and/or a characteristic or belief that is so fundamental to identity or conscience that a person should not be forced to renounce it (the right to choose whom to marry) and the distinct identity of such women and girls in Afghanistan (as they would be considered as violating the honour of the family).

The connection may also be between the absence of protection against persecution and one or more of the reasons under Article 10 QD (Article 9(3) QD).