Seated on a hulking sofa at the Kabul children's center she calls home, Obaida shares the preteen habits of most other 12-year-old girls around the world. She squirms, she giggles, she fidgets with her bracelets before unleashing a torrent of chatter about her love of school, her fellow students, and her computer class.
Unlike most girls her age, however, Obaida has already been engaged and nearly married to a man decades her senior. Her father sold her a year ago to a local Kabul family for money, allegedly to feed his own drug habit.
Obaida had been handed over to live with her future in-laws at age 11. They were simply waiting for her to begin menstruating to finalize the ceremony and consummate the marriage. Only the intervention of her older sister Maryam, married off by her father at 11 to a blind man nearly 20 years older, along with support from a local women's shelter and the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, stopped Obaida's wedding from proceeding. Together, shelter staff and commission members went to ask the police to intervene, which they did, sweeping into the family's house to rescue the girl.
Underage marriage violates Afghanistan's civil code, which permits marriage for girls at age 16 and boys at age 18. The country's new violence-against-women law strengthened the statute by commanding jail time “of not less than two years” for anyone marrying an underage bride.