Afghanistan: Marriage contract approved by the Supreme Court of Afghanistan

After years of lobbying by networkers and activists, a standardized 'nikahnama' (marriage contract) has been approved, with the potential of curbing forced and child marriages.
The Supreme Court of Afghanistan has approved a new marriage contract which is expected to help stop child and forced marriages in the country.
The new 15-page formal marriage contract, the ‘Nikah Nama’, has been welcomed by women’s rights NGOs in a country where 60 to 80 percent of marriages are forced, according to the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC).

“The new marriage contract is a strong legal instrument that will end child marriages and will empower women’s legal status after marriage,” said Nibila Wafiq, a women’s rights programme officer for German NGO Medica Mondiale.

In Afghanistan, the legal age for marriage is 16 for girls and 18 for boys, but human rights groups say every year thousands of Afghan girls are forced to marry at a younger age. According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), 57 percent of marriages in Afghanistan involve girls below the legal age of 16.

The new marriage document stipulates that if a man wants to marry, he should make sure that his would-be wife is at least 16. Marriage certificates will not be issued for underage brides.

Gender activists see the new marriage contract as a courageous reform in a society where only six years ago women were deprived of education, work and political participation. However, officials note that only one to three couples apply for formal marriage registration per day in a country of about 25 million people. This would suggest that the vast majority of Afghans are not officially registering their marriages.

To counter this, the Ministry of Women’s Affairs has launched a marriage registration awareness campaign to boost the number of legally registered couples. Officials say that one of the messages they will be trying to get across is that an Afghan man will not compromise his traditionally dominant position in the family by officially registering his marriage.

In Afghanistan, men can have up to four wives as allowed by Islamic law. Abdul Wakeel Omari, an official at Afghanistan’s Supreme Court, told IRIN that it would be possible for any Afghan man to have four marriage contracts, all valid at the same time. Under Afghan civil law, the right to divorce is the prerogative of men. However, Medica Mondiale has lobbied officials in the country’s Supreme Court to grant the right of divorce to women whose husbands marry another woman without their approval.