The U.S. Department of State, whose highest priority overseas is the protection and welfare of U.S. citizens, considers forced marriage to be a violation of basic human rights and a form of child abuse. Often, victims are subjected to non-consensual sex, physical and emotional abuse, isolation, and threats of violence. International law and conventions also support an individual's right to self-determination, minimum marriage ages, and the rejection of abuse of women and honor based violence.
Arranged marriages are a long-standing tradition in many cultures and countries. The Department respects this tradition, and makes a very clear distinction between a forced and an arranged marriage. In arranged marriages, the families of both spouses take a leading role in the arrangement, but the choice of consent remains with both individuals. In a forced marriage, at least one party does not consent to the marriage, and some element of duress or coercion is generally present.
Afghan Marriage Laws: Age Requirements and Consent
In Afghanistan, marriage laws are based both on the Afghan civil code and on Shari’a law (Islamic law), which applies to issues not covered by the civil code. Marriage laws dictate a minimum age of 16 for girls and 18 for boys, though a girl of 15 may be married with the permission of her father or guardian. As parties to a contract, girls age 16 and 17 should also have the right to consent; however, marriage law is open to interpretation, and girls under 18 are frequently not consulted. Consent to marry is explicitly required for individuals who are 18 or older. Under Shari’a law, marriage is not valid without the consent of parties between ages 15-18, and the consent of both individuals is required, not just the guardians. Afghanistan’s Law on the Elimination of Violence Against Women bans forced marriages. In 2007, the Supreme Court certified a new official marriage contract that both parties must sign, but it has not yet been implemented widely.
Abuse and Incarcerations
Despite Afghanistan’s law requiring a minimum age for marriage and the provision of consent, the majority of brides are under the legal minimum age and many marriages are forced. According to UNIFEM and Human Rights Watch, more than 70 percent of marriages were forced in 2009. Most marriages are arranged by parents and other family members. Except in some urban areas of Afghanistan, the majority of young men and women do not choose their own spouses. The practice of giving women to another family to settle disputes or debts is common today, though legally prohibited by a presidential decree. Women are frequently abused or confined at home for refusing their family’s choice of marriage partner or attempting to run away from a forced marriage. Honor-based violence and killings relating to family matters, marriage, and chastity are prevalent.
Local Assistance Available
Family Response Units in local police stations, the Ministry of Women’s Affairs and its provincial offices, and both government-run and private women’s shelters are available to assist individuals wanting to avoid forced marriage. The Department of State is not aware of formal exit controls in Afghanistan that would hinder the departure of a U.S. citizen seeking to escape from an impending forced marriage.
If you are a U.S. citizen facing a forced marriage, or know a U.S. citizen who is facing a forced marriage, contact the local authorities and the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. Please see the Country Specific Information for Afghanistan for Embassy location and contact information.