Press Release

Against my will: Defying the practices that harm women and girls and undermine equality in Afghanistan

30 June 2020

30 June 2020, Kabul, Afghanistan – Every year, millions of girls are subjected to practices that harm them physically and emotionally, with the full knowledge and consent of their families, friends and communities, according to the State of World Population 2020, released today by the United Nations Population Fund.


At least 19 harmful practices are considered human rights violations globally, but child marriage is the most prevalent one in Afghanistan.


“Harmful practices against girls cause profound and lasting trauma, robbing them of their right to reach their full potential,” says UNFPA Executive Director Dr. Natalia Kanem.


Some harmful practices are waning in countries where they have been most prevalent. However, because of population growth in these countries, the number of girls subjected to them will actually rise in the coming decades, if urgent action is not taken.


 “Conflict, poverty, and holding on to certain traditional beliefs and behaviours puts underage girls at risk in Afghanistan, especially in remote and rural areas,” notes Koffi Kouame, UNFPA Representative in Afghanistan. These risks not only prevent girls and women from exercising their human rights, but also their social rights, and prevents them from education, harms their protection, and increases health threats including their reproductive health and the ability to choose if and when they have children.” 


Many harmful practices are human rights violations because they arise from discriminatory gender norms that perpetuate inequality. And they are imposed on women and girls, regardless of consent.


As harmful practices violate human rights, it's the obligation of the governments to ensure these practices end because they have ratified the international treaties to protect the rights of women and children. Afghanistan has signed on most international conventions to protect children, including early marriage. From the policy perspective, the National Action Plan for the Elimination of Early and Child Marriage (NAP ECM) in Afghanistan has been adopted and is a key progress towards prevention and ending early marriage in the country.


The COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 resulted in quarantine and lockdowns in many countries around the world, which still continues. The COVID-19 pandemic threatens the lives of millions of women and girls. A recent analysis revealed that if services and programmes remain shuttered for six months, an additional 13 million girls may be forced into marriage globally. Risks of gender-based violence/violence against women are heightened during all types of emergencies, including the COVID-19 pandemic.


“The pandemic both makes our job harder and more urgent as so many more girls are now at risk,” Dr. Kanem says. “We will not stop until the rights, choices and bodies of all girls are fully their own.”


Child marriage is a fundamental violation of human rights that robs girls of their education, health and long term prospects. The elimination of child marriage requires joint action of the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, religious communities, civil society, and national and international partners.


We need to renew our commitment and ensure this harmful practice is prevented, and girls and their rights are respected,” says UNFPA Representative Kouame. “Doing so will help strengthen Afghan society, and the country and its future prospects, as a whole.”




For further details on the report, and media queries, please contact:

Abdul Rahman Zaeem - Media & Communication Analyst, UNFPA Afghanistan Country Office

Email:, contact numbers: +93 799 714 314 (mobile) +93 799 601 859 (WhatsApp)