What it’s Like to be Married at 7 Years Old

Source: Huffington Post

A view of Pol-e-Charkhi, as seen from near the house of Spengul’s mom. — Photo Shougofa Alikozay/Huffington Post

For this 37-year-old mother of five, life is the picture of enforced marriage: she barely scrapes by on less than a dollar a day and cannot afford to take any of her children to school.

“I don’t want my daughter to suffer the same limitations and problems I have. I want her to marry when she is old enough, not in her childhood,” Spengul’s mom tells me when we meet in her mud and clay house in the dusty village of Pol-e-Charkhi, on Kabul’s outskirts. She abides by a rural Afghan tradition of not using her own name, and instead is called after her first-born child.

Spengul’s mom was married at just 7 years old to a man then in his mid-20s. For her impoverished family, the marriage offered some financial relief and a form of protection. “I was a child. How could I be happy?” she says. “How can a child without her mom and dad be happy in a strange house?”

But her husband turned out to be mentally unstable and addicted to opium, meaning she suffered neglect, unbearable loneliness and heartbreak. As soon as she started menstruating, at age 13, she conceived their first child. But with her adolescent body not fully developed and prepared for birth, and with no money for food and medicine, the baby boy did not have much of a chance. He died after a mere four months.

As is common in underage mothers, Spengul’s mom suffered physically after her first birth, and did not have another child for some time. Girls who give birth under the age of 18 can face many problems, including diabetes, anemia and heart disease, health experts say. She was lucky to have survived, especially as she was under the age of 15: Afghanistan has the highest rate of maternal mortality in the world, largely owing to the custom of enforced marriage of young girls and women. Poverty and a lack of sufficient calories worsen the problem. Afghanistan has the fourth worst mortality rate for children under 5 in the world, after Angola, Benin and Chad, with some 101 children dying for every 1,000 live births, according to UNICEF. Read more