Islamabad: The Taliban decreed they were banning forced marriage of women in Afghanistan, a move apparently meant to address criteria the international community consider a precondition to recognising their government and restoring aid to the country. The move was announced by the reclusive Taliban chief, Hibatullah Akhunzada, a cleric chosen as the group’s supreme leader who is believed to be in Kandahar.
It comes as poverty is surging in Afghanistan following the Taliban takeover in August amid the withdrawal of US and Nato troops. Since then, foreign governments have halted funds that had been a mainstay of the economy. “Both (women and men) should be equal,” said the decree, adding that “no one can force women to marry by coercion or pressure.” Women’s rights improved markedly over the past two decades of international presence in Afghanistan, but are seen as under threat with the return of the Taliban, who during their earlier rule in the 1990s virtually cloistered women, banned them from public life and access to education. Forced marriages have become more commonplace in the country, as the internally displaced marry off their young daughters in exchange for a bride-price that can be used to pay debts and feed their families. The decree did not mention a minimum age for marriage, which previously was set at 16. Women in Afghanistan for decades were treated like property - as an exchange token for blood money or ending disputes or tribal feuds.