Khatema, 9, fights against her own child marriage

Khatema, 9, fights against her own child marriage
OMID MOHMAND, FIELD REPORTER WESTERN AFGHANISTAN

Khatema, 9, was ecstatic. I asked her, “If you can, try to recall one of the happiest moments of your life.” For Khatema, this moment came when she heard that her father was reconsidering marrying her off to a suitor. 

Poor families in Afghanistan face a broad range of challenges. Ghafoor, Khatema’s father, was finding it increasingly difficult to provide for his three boys and three girls with his paltry wages. With the money he could gain from Khatema’s dowry he could settle all of his loans.

Khatema was playing with her friends in the village when her younger brother told her about her father’s decision to marry her off.

At first, Khatema thought he was joking. “I just laughed and told him ‘mind your own business’” she told me. “When I got home, my father wasn’t there. My mother’s eyes were red. My siblings were silent and just looked at me.” Khatema went quiet for a while and then continued. “I asked my mother if they wanted to marry me off. She hugged me and started crying. I wanted to scream and cry, but I [couldn’t]. I went to the stable. It was dark there and I started to cry.”

When her father came home later that night Khatema was determined to voice her disagreement. While she felt fear expressing her thoughts to her father, she knew this might be her only chance to change his mind. She had always wanted to be a teacher and if she was married at a young age like her older sister she might never be able to realise her dream.

“I told my father not to marry me off. I told him that I wanted to be a teacher in the village school."

Khatema’s mother, Fatima, never wanted her to face the same fate as her older sister, who was married off two years ago, “when my husband offered my first daughter to his friend’s son for money, I didn’t know what I could do or whom I could ask for help,” she told me.

This time, Fatima turned to her neighbour Razia for support knowing that Razia had attended World Vision's peace building training and was equipped to support in domestic conflicts.

Convincing Ghafoor wasn’t an easy task. He had justified marrying his daughter off in exchange for relief from personal financial pressures that very few others were aware of. It took one week of discussions with Ghafoor and the village Mullah before he finally changed his mind. Khatema is sleeping soundly again, “I am studying even harder than before to reach my dream of becoming a teacher. I am so happy. I feel relieved…like something heavy has been lifted from my shoulders.” 

About World Vision's child protection work 

World Vision works with children in communities to set up child forums, which fight child marriage by raising awareness of the dangers of marrying young with parents and religious leaders. We also set up training sessions for parents and caregivers on child rights, and help communities advocate against child marriage.
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