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Afghanistan - People

The median age in Afghanistan is 18 and the resilience of the democracy rests pretty significantly on the government’s ability to engage and then meet in a patient, realistic way the aspirations of Afghan young people. Afghanistan is facing a rapidly growing population and out of a population of about 31 million people, 68 percent are under the age of 25. About 55 percent of the Afghan population is under the age of 19; millions of young Afghans will enter the labor force over the next 5-10 years, adding to an unemployment burden that is already hovering around 40 percent.

There has never been an accurate population census taken in Afghanistan, but Afghanistan’s population is estimated at 31 million people. According to a 2001 estimate, Afghanistan had a population of 23 million within Afghanistan, with an additional 4 million Afghan refugees living in Pakistan and Iran, and an unknown number of other refugees throughout the world. In 2001, there were about 4 million Afghan refugees. An estimated 2.3 million have since returned. Domestic and international programs have been established to rebuild the war-torn country. The government is unable to measure the population of some regions.

Population patterns in Afghanistan have been unstable for decades due to domestic and international conflicts. In 1978, millions lost their homes due to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. An estimated 6 million people became refugees, some of whom fled to Pakistan or Iran. Others were internally displaced or migrated to Australia, various European countries, and the United States. After the Soviet withdrawal, displacement of people continued due to civil conflict in the 1990s and NATO intervention in 2001. Economic hardship and natural disasters, such as extreme drought, have also forced people to leave their homes.

Traditionally, there has been a distribution of the population across rural and urban areas, although the mountainous geography has tended to concentrate even rural populations in a relatively small portion of Afghanistan’s total territory. Trends of rural-to-urban migration had accelerated since 1960 with the growth of urban infrastructure, but then reversed with the effects of the Soviet-Afghan war.

In 2015, Afghanistan launched its first-ever nationwide effort to gather comprehensive demographic and health information of its citizens. The Demographic and Health Survey results provide new baseline data on key population and health indicators, such as fertility levels, marriage rates, awareness and use of family planning methods, breastfeeding practices, nutritional status of mothers and young children, childhood and maternal health and mortality, and information on social indicators, such as domestic violence.

The 2015 AfDHS provides data at the national and provincial levels, as well as for urban and rural areas. Data from the 2015 AfDHS demonstrates where Afghanistan stands in achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Results were compiled according to rigorous international standards and, consequently, comparable with results collected in other countries. The Central Statistics Organization (CSO) and the Ministry of Public Health sent trained surveyors across the country from June 15, 2015 to February 23, 2016 to collect data from more than 24,000 households, 29,000 ever-married women, and 10,700 ever-married men. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) provided funding for the 2015 AfDHS. ICF provided technical assistance through The Demographic Health Survey (DHS) Program, a USAID-funded project providing support and technical assistance in the implementation of demographic and health surveys in countries worldwide.

The 2015 AfDHS key findings show that two-thirds of Afghan households had access to an improved source of drinking water; more than seven in 10 households have electricity, 87 percent have a mobile phone, and 51 percent have a television; less than half (46 percent) of Afghan children age 12-23 months have received all of the recommended basic vaccinations and only 15 percent of women and 49 percent of men are literate. Regarding women’s empowerment issues, the survey also shows that women still continue struggle to access basic health care services, where 18 percent of women had four or more antenatal care visits and less than half (almost 50 percent) of births are delivered in a health facility.

Men take out frustration at being in debt or having to work for years to pay off loans, on their wives. Furthermore, 80 percent of women agreed that a husband is justified to abuse them and 53 percent of ever-married women have experienced physical violence since age 15, and 46 percent experiencing violence in the 12 months preceding the survey. While, the Maternal and Child Mortality estimates are among the important focused indicators for health and development, this survey issues forth an opportunity to utilize broad range evidence-based data to inform and implement policies and programs. The AfDHS survey results will be used by the Afghan government and the international community to reduce health disparities and to ensure that evidenced-based health programs along with resources are reaching those most in need. The project completion culminated with the final report in February 2017.

In 2002, many Afghans did not have access to basic health services, and few women were able to seek health care. Collaboration among the Afghan government, USAID, other donors, and non-governmental organizations has led to significant progress in Afghanistan’s health sector. According to the 2007-2008 Afghanistan National Risk and Vulnerability Assessment, more than 57 percent of the population live within a one-hour walk to a health facility, up from 9 percent in 2002, enabling more Afghans than ever before to seek medical attention, consult trained staff and pick up medicine. The under-five mortality rate has also decreased from 87 per 1,000 live births in 2005 to 55 per 1,000 in 2015, according to the 2015 Afghanistan Demographic and Health Survey (AfDHS). The AfDHS also reports that 51 percent of all deliveries are assisted by a skilled provider.

The infant mortality rate in Afghanistan is among the highest in the world. More than 20 percent of children in Afghanistan die before reaching 5 years of age. The average life expectancy in Afghanistan is 43 years. About 77 percent of the Afghanistan population lives in rural areas. Half of the urban population live in Kabul.

Status of Women

Women in Afghanistan used to be active participants in society. Before the Taliban took over in 1996, in fact, 70% of the teachers in the capital city, Kabul, were women. Forty percent of the doctors were female. Women were engineers, architects, lawyers, and judges. During the long years of war, the economy of many families became dependent on women's income.

However, the Taliban changed everything. As one journalist put it, "Imagine waking up and discovering that overnight Congress had outlawed television, movies, video games, music, dancing, tape recorders and cassettes, children's toys including dolls and kites, card and board games, wedding parties, New Year celebrations, picnics, mixed sex gatherings of any kind, cameras, photographs and paintings of people and animals, cigarettes and alcohol, magazines and newspapers, and most books -- even pet parakeets."

But for women, the list gets even worse. The Taliban banned: any form of female education, from kindergarten through graduate school; wearing makeup, nail polish or jewelry; plucking your eyebrows or cutting your hair short; wearing colorful or stylish clothes, sheer stockings, white socks or shoes, or high heels; laughing, talking or walking loudly in public. In fact, one of the Taliban's dictates read, "Women, you should not step outside your residence." If women did venture outside, it had to be for an essential, government-sanctioned purpose. They needed to be escorted by a male relative. And they had no choice but to wear a garment that covered them completely -- from head to toe -- known as a burqa.

The Elimination of Violence Against Women (EVAW) presidential decree--commonly referred to as the EVAW law--obliges police to arrest persons who abuse women. Implementation and awareness of the EVAW law was limited, however. Forced virginity testing remained legal, and police, prosecutors, and judges continued to order virginity tests in cases of “moral crimes” such as zina. Women who sought assistance in cases of rape were often subject to virginity tests.

Police and legal officials often charged women with intent to commit “zina” (extramarital sex) to justify their arrest and incarceration for social offenses, such as running away from home, rejecting a spouse chosen by her family, fleeing domestic violence or rape, or eloping. The constitution provides that in cases not explicitly covered by the provisions of the constitution or other laws, courts may, in accordance with Hanafi jurisprudence (a school of Islamic law) and within the limits set by the constitution, rule in a manner that best attains justice in the case. Although observers stated this provision was widely understood to apply only to civil cases, many judges and prosecutors applied this provision to criminal matters. Observers reported officials used this article to charge women and men with “immorality” or “running away from home,” neither of which is a crime. Police often detained women for zina at the request of family members.

Certain factors appear central in relation to marriage: The marrying parties have little influence on the choice of partner; local tradition and religion govern the institution of marriage; the institution of marriage is marred by number of discriminatory and oppressive practices; there are no adequate registration routines put in place by the authorities, and formalities are of subordinate importance for whether a couple is considered married. Irrespective of kinship group, ethnicity and geographical region, most of the marriages in Afghanistan are arranged, in the sense that they are entered into following an agreement between families/groups. The extent to which the parties themselves are involved in the process leading up to an agreement tends to vary.

The marriage contract is thus an agreement between two families and not a confirmation of an emotional relationship between two individuals. In Afghanistan, arranged marriages are part of a complex set of traditions, loyalties and authorities. The marriage institution plays a key role in the establishment of alliances between families or in strengthening pre-existing networks. Marriage agreements have strong political and economical aspects.

The tradition has always been that a girl or two should be exchanged, or money or a piece of land should be given to the family of the victim in order to remove enmity. Therefore, the sister of the murderer automatically appeared before the jirga without any hesitation and accepted a marriage into the family of the victim in order to finish the hostility between the families.

The marriage tradition is endogamous, which in this context means that partners from one’s own kinship group, tribe or ethnic group are preferred. There are no reliable marriage statistics available for Afghanistan, but some surveys indicate that approximately half of all marriages involve persons in close kinship. Marrying a cousin is considered optimal, both cross and parallel cousins.

The bride price is the sum which is paid to a woman’s parents in return for the right to marry their daughter. It is perceived as compensation to the woman’s family for having raised her. The bride price is an accepted custom which is practised in large parts of the country. The tradition of paying bride price remains strong in rural Afghanistan, where it can constitute an important source of income for poor families.

According to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), a total of 57 per cent of all marriage agreements concluded in Afghanistan involve girls under 16 years of age. A study conducted in 2008 on the basis of approximately 200 marriages, shows that in more than 25 per cent of these marriages the age difference between the spouses exceeded 16 years. Approximately 40 per cent of the marriages were agreed when the bride was 10-13 years old; in 32.5 per cent of the cases she was 14 years old, and in 27.5 per cent of the cases she was 15 years old.

Polygyny, a man’s right to be married to several women at the same time, is legal both under Sharia law and Afghan civil law (a man can be legally married to four wives). T the prevalence of polygyny has increased during the last three decades, because the conflicts in Afghanistan produced a growing number of widows. The increase of this form of marriage first and foremost takes place within a population segment consisting of wealthy illiterates.

When an unmarried girl elopes with a boy (“kidnapper”), his family and the villagers call for a Jirga and the Jirga decides the amount of the dowry to be given to the girl’s father so that the two can marry. The boy must also pay a fine to the village in the form of the cow or sheep. When a married woman consents to be “kidnapped,” the council urges the husband to divorce her, and she is then married to the other man. Her husband receives back the dowry he previously paid. The other man must give two cows and two sheep to the husband, as well as two cows and five goats to the village.

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Page last modified: 06-09-2018 17:36:47 ZULU