Keeping Girls in School and Out of Early Wedlock
Sahar has been increasingly successful at educating girls in the K to the 7th-grade range, but we were seeing a dramatic dropout rate around ages 12 to 13 due to early marriage. Early marriage in Afghanistan remains a common custom. Girls in various cultural groups can be married early for several reasons, from being used to resolve conflict, to bringing money to poverty-stricken families.
Early Marriage Prevention Program
In 2015, Sahar launched the pilot for the Early Marriage Prevention Program in two Afghanistan schools. Sahar’s strategy integrates conversations about child marriage and education within its two pilot schools and with community leaders, solidifying the long-term importance of educating girls within the cultural framework.
Sahar is exploring partnership opportunities with local Afghan organizations to coordinate community engagement programs and is using their existing relationships with the Ministry of Education, principals, teachers, and parent associations at their schools. Girl leaders in schools are identified as candidates for self-esteem programs to encourage them to remain in school and to spread awareness of their legal rights to not marry until age 16. At home, the program aims to increase fathers’ awareness of the long-term economic gain of having an educated daughter.
Educating girls represents real economic gains. For those girls who are able to continue through to graduation from high school, opportunities for employment and earning power increase. One extra year of secondary school increases a girl’s future wages by up to 25 percent. If a girl receives seven or more years of education she will marry four years later and have 2.2 fewer children, according to the UN Population Fund.
Sahar has graduated 720 girls to date from this program, allowing them to earn more and become independent.
Although this program was halted due to the Taliban takeover in 2021, Sahar is working to establish new roll-outs of this program and bring back this highly successful effort which opens up opportunities for girls and their families.
"I live in a family where a girl is not valued. I am a very recluse, shy, and don't talk a lot. I think that is why others don't like me, and they don't value me.
Ever Since I have participated in this program, I have comprehended that women have valor. I was also informed that as a woman I could be courageous myself, for my family, and even for the society. Now I am aware of my rights and it gives me great confidence and courage to defend myself.
Some families are old minded and have the wrong understanding about women. They don't value their daughters. They force engagement on their daughters at a young age. When their daughters don't want to marry, their family threaten to accept. So they have to get married. They treat their daughters like a commodity. I live in such a family.
It is about a month that my father got me engaged with a boy living in Turkey. Probably a refugee himself. I don't know him. Without my consent, they have promised me in engagement for six thousand dollars. I wish this program had happened before my engagement so I would have something to say to my parents to defend my rights. At that time, I didn't know about my rights and had nothing to say to convince my parents.
Now, I am informed about my rights and I know about the negative results of underage marriage. After participating in this program, I made myself clear to my parents that I only consent for a marriage after completing my higher education.
I want to thank Sahar and AAFF for preparing this crucial program in our school. Thanks a world Sahar!"
-Soweta, 10th Grade