The marriage of a six-year-old girl to a man more than nine times her age in exchange for a goat has sparked shock and outrage in Afghanistan.
The youngster, named as Gharibgol, is said to have been married off by her father to the mullah of Obeh, a village in the Herat province of Afghanistan.
Her father sold his underage daughter – the legal age for women to wed is 16 – to the mullah, named as Seyed Abdolkarim, as he was struggling to make ends meet.
He allegedly received a goat, a bag of rice, sugar and a few litres of cooking oil in the exchange with the 55-year-old.
After the wedding, the mullah took the girl to stay at a relative’s house in another region.
Initially assuming she was the mullah’s daughter, the host’s suspicions were aroused when he witnessed the mullah ‘undressing’ her.
When questioned by the host, the mullah openly admitted the girl was his wife.
The women’s rights bureau in Ghor province, where they were based, was quickly contacted as were the police, who promptly arrested the religious leader.
Reports later claimed that tests at Ghor hospital revealed no sexual contact had taken place between the pair.
According to eyewitness Fawad Ahmady, who filmed some of the events, police also arrested the girl’s father.
Mr Ahmady, who reported the story to Observers, said: “Local women attacked him and beat him up.
“He tried to defend himself by saying that the mullah had promised he wouldn't sleep with his daughter until she was 18.”
He also defended his actions by claiming poverty, adding that with her married off it was one less mouth to feed.
Gharibgol is now said to be living with her mother in a safe house.
Negineh Khalili, the head of the women’s rights bureau for Ghor province, was quoted as saying she will do all she can to ensure the father loses any parental rights, and she is granted a divorce.
Mr Ahmady continued: “She and the mullah were only married religiously, which makes things more difficult – a judge cannot divorce them; another imam must do that.
“And divorce remains very taboo in Afghanistan. Under the law, nobody is allowed to marry underage children.
“But imams like this mullah are quite respected, and don’t always face consequences.”
According to the UN statistics 46.4 per cent of marriages in the country involve girls under the age of 18, although the figure could be higher due to rural areas only having religious ceremonies.
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