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Nine-year-old Mariam Ayan has become an unlikely global symbol of the violence and injustice against girls in Afghanistan.
On Friday, CNN reported on her harrowing story of being sold into marriage by her mother in Kabul, at the tender age of 10.
Ayan was bought by her new husband, Sohail, in August 2017, according to investigators from the Kabul Independent Human Rights Commission (KIHRC), and has spent the past five months under his guardianship — while he made sure she never went to school.
Mariam was born a girl and her family had petitioned for a divorce; after the divorce, her parents arranged a marriage for her to Sohail, an Afghan-American development professional. Her marriage was illegal, but according to Afghanistan’s Family Court laws, it is the girl’s family that should be paying for it. In late 2017, Sohail said that he had agreed to pay Rs. 7,500 ($90) a month, but that his wife had dropped out of school, and asked to work as a tea seller. In January, her husband met with local prosecutor Baba Sediqi and asked for her “release,” saying that she was running away from home. Ayan’s family — and her father — rejected the claim and said she was legally married to Sohail. The last police information seen by CNN was in December, when Sohail met with local officials to work out a way to “release” his wife from the custody of her guardian.
Mariam now lives with her father and siblings — though Afghan law prohibits her being sent back to her new husband.
Mariam’s story has now been reported across Afghanistan — and around the world — inspiring a local campaign by the KIHRC to help her parents.
The agency is now calling on Afghanistan’s Supreme Court to investigate the circumstances under which she was married off, and to hold the person responsible for Mariam’s welfare to account.
The KIHRC hopes Mariam will eventually return to school and she will face legal action for all the injuries and trauma she has endured.
Mariam’s story was picked up by Germany’s Focus magazine as well as the UK’s Daily Mail and the Washington Post.
In the Washington Post, one commentator said of Mariam: “She is a social witness whose power is only just beginning to become known. One of the most cruel traditions of Afghan culture is forced marriage, and this case is only the tip of a huge iceberg of horrors suffered by many Afghan girls.”
Another said that Mariam’s story was “an urgent wake-up call to the international community to work with Afghan human rights groups and even the United Nations to assist the tens of thousands of Afghan girls who face similar traumas every day.”