The Taliban decreed on Friday they were banning forced marriage of women in Afghanistan, a move apparently meant to address criteria the international community consider a precondition to recognizing their government and restoring aid to the war-torn country.
The move was announced by the reclusive Taliban chief, Hibatullah Akhunzada, a cleric chosen as the group’s supreme leader who is believed to be in the southern city of Kandahar. It comes as poverty is surging in Afghanistan following the Taliban takeover in August amid the withdrawal of U.S. and NATO troops. Since then, foreign governments have halted funds that had been a mainstay of the economy.
The decree did not mention a minimum age for marriage, which previously was set at 16 years old.
The group also said a widow will now be allowed to re-marry 17 weeks after her husband’s death, choosing her new husband freely.
“This is big, this is huge … if it is done as it is supposed to be, this is the first time they have come up with a decree like this,” said Mahbouba Seraj, executive director of the Afghan Women’s Skills Development Center speaking from Kabul on a Reuters Next conference panel on Friday.
The international community, which has frozen billions of dollars in funds for Afghanistan, has made women’s and human rights a key element of any future engagement with Afghanistan.
Seraj said that even before the Taliban took over the country on August 15, Afghan politicians had struggled to form such a clear policy on women’s rights around marriage.
“Now what we have to do as the women of this country is we should make sure this actually takes place and gets implemented,” said Seraj.
Friday’s announcement comes as thousands of girls from grades seven to 12 are still not allowed to attend school, and a majority of women have been banned from returning to their jobs since the Taliban takeover.
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