In Afghanistan’s most underdeveloped regions, attitudes towards education and child marriage appear to have changed significantly since the overthrow of the Taliban government in 2002, according to a study led by researchers at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
The study, published online November 22 in the Journal of Adolescent Health, included interviews with nearly 1,400 Afghans aged 12-15 and their parents, in relatively poor rural districts of the country. The responses indicated that in just one generation, getting married and leaving school in childhood have become much less favored options. Virtually all of the adolescent respondents were unmarried, and about 75 percent were still in school—in contrast to their parents, who commonly married in their mid-teens and usually had no formal education.
“This study was conducted in some of the most educationally and socially disadvantaged provinces in Afghanistan, and yet we found that there have been remarkably positive shifts in attitudes among boys and girls and their parents,” says study senior author Dr. Robert Blum, MD, PhD, professor in the Department of Population, Family and Reproductive Health and director of the Johns Hopkins Urban Health Institute.
At the time of the Taliban’s defeat in 2002, early marriage and minimal formal education were the norms in rural Afghanistan. The United Nations Development Program estimated a mean educational attainment of just 6.5 years of school. Girls in particular were discouraged from pursuing much formal education, and frequently ended their brief education by getting married.
The fall of the Taliban allowed modern, liberalizing influences into Afghanistan, from television and the internet to global nongovernmental organizations. Dr. Blum and colleagues undertook the study to get a better picture of how cultural attitudes have been reshaped in the least developed parts of the country, particularly with regard to education and child marriage. For the study, surveys were conducted by a team of experienced Afghan social researchers in Kandahar and five other rural provinces—some of which still simmer with Taliban insurgent activity; insurgents in Badghis province twice tried unsuccessfully to capture the research team.