Cal State East Bay lecturer raises awareness about child marriages in Afghanistan
As Farid Younos watched a video depicting a young girl — 11 or 12 years old — crying and asking for a divorce, he was shaken to his core. The Cal State East Bay lecturer was appalled, and also realized that not everyone was so intimately aware of the reality that faces many young Afghan girls in a country where underage marriage is rampant.
Now several years after learning about the issue, he’s founded an organization called the International Movement Against Child Marriages, which is focused on educating people in the Bay Area and beyond about the practice of underage marriage in Afghanistan.
“Sometimes we focus too much on nation-building and don't think about people living morally,” Younos says. “We cannot expect [Afghanistan to be] a democracy if people aren’t living by a human standard. Democracy is not just voting, it should have a culture.”
Younos knows he isn’t going to stop all childhood marriages, but he’s focused first on engaging the Bay Area in discussions about how individuals can help on a larger scale. In late November, he held a kickoff party with more than 100 supporters at an Afghan restaurant in Hayward, and his Facebook page gains new followers every day.
Eventually, he hopes to go global with his effort and meet with world peacekeeping organizations like the United Nations to require that Afghanistan uphold its end of the laws.
“My challenge is I’m standing at the base of a very old establishment trying to do something that nobody has done before,” Younos says. “But someone has to start from somewhere. Rules can be changed, and I can’t stay quiet anymore.”
The son of a chemistry professor, Younos, 62, grew up in Kabul, Afghanistan, in a traditional but democratic home. His father taught him to treat women with respect and that the Quran requires Muslims to fight for fair treatment of all people, regardless of gender.
“My father was my role model and mentor,” Younos says. “He taught me that whatever you achieve — whether it’s wealth, education or fame — you have to have a moral approach to everything, and part of that is respecting women.”
Afghanistan adopted a regional action plan to end and criminalize child marriage in 2009. However, the plan calls for the government to properly enforce laws against early unions, but Younos said that isn’t happening as often as it should.
According to UNICEF, girls married young are more vulnerable to intimate partner violence, too-early pregnancy and childbearing, sexual abuse and many times, an end to their education and the development of vocational or life skills.
Accurate numbers of children married in Afghanistan are difficult to find, however most surveys estimate around 46 percent of Afghani women are married by age 18 and upward of 15 percent before the age of 16. According to the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, between 60 and 80 percent of all marriages in Afghanistan are forced and a 2010 mortality survey by the Afghan Ministry of Public Health showed that 53 percent of women ages 25-49 reported being married by age 18.