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21 July, 2024
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Afghanistan: Selling their daughters to avoid starvation

A common story for thousands of displaced families in western Afghanistan, one of the poorest parts of the country.

Kathimerini Greece Newsroom

When her husband told her that they would have to sell their two little girls so that their family would not starve to death after being displaced by the drought in western Afghanistan, Fahima "cried a lot".

Their two little girls, six-year-old Faristeh and just one-and-a-half-year-old Sokriya, with clothes and faces in the mud, smile near their mother in their shelter made of perforated tarpaulins.

"I want to stay with my mom," says the little one with sad eyes.

They do not know that they were recently sold to the families of their future spouses, who are also minors. The husbands' families paid about $3,350 (2,870 euros) for the eldest and $2,800 (2,400 euros) for her sister.

Once the full amount has been paid, which may take years, the two girls will have to say goodbye to their parents and the IDP camp in Kala-i-Naou, the capital of Badghis province, where they found shelter to survive.

The same tragic story for thousands of displaced people

This story is very common for thousands of displaced families - mostly due to drought - in the region, one of Afghanistan's poorest.

At IDP camps and villages, AFP reporters met with about fifteen families who were forced to sell their baby girls for survival for sums ranging from $550 to nearly $4,000.

This practice is widespread. Representatives of the camps and villages list dozens of such cases after the drought of 2018, with their number having increased with this year's drought.

The family of 25-year-old Sabehreh, who lives next to Fahima, gets fresh food from a grocery store. His owner threatened to "jail" them if they did not pay him.

To pay off her debts, the family sold their three-year-old daughter, Zakereh, who will marry four-year-old Zambiolah, the grocer's son. The little one has not understood anything, as the father of her future husband has decided to wait until he grows up first to take her to his family.

"I'm not happy that we did this, but we have nothing to eat (…) If this continues, we will have to sell (and) our three-month-old daughter," says Sabehreh in despair.

"Many sell their girls," said another neighbor, Gul Bibi, who has also sold her Ace, now eight or nine, to a 23-year-old to whom her family owed money.

This man is still in Iran and Gul Bibi is thinking in horror the day he will return to get Ace.

"We know it's not right (…) but we have no choice," said Hayatullah, another camp resident who overheard the conversation.

Endless nightmare

In another camp in Kala-i-Naou, Mohammad Assan is angry as he shows photos of his daughters, 9-year-old Siana and 6-year-old Eddie Gul, who have gone to their young wives' homes away from the city.

"We have never seen them before," he says. "We did not want to do that, but we had to let our other children eat."

"My daughters are definitely better there, they have something to eat," he continues, trying to comfort himself, pointing to the pieces of bread given to them by neighbors and having only these pieces of bread to eat that day.

Asan, who has expenses for his sick wife, is still in debt. A few days ago he started looking for a buyer for his four-year-old daughter.

"Some days I get mad, I leave and I do not really know where I am going," said Dada Gul, his wife, sitting in their tattered tent.

For mothers it is an endless nightmare: the decision to sell their child, the wait until she leaves, which often takes years until their daughter is 10 or 12 years old and then the separation occurs.

Rabia, a 43-year-old widow who was also displaced by the drought, is doing her best to postpone it. Her 12-year-old daughter, who sold for about $550, should have left a month ago, but Rabia begged her daughter's future husband's family to be patient for another year.

"I want to stay with my mom," says the little one with sad eyes.

Rabia would take her daughter back if "they had something to eat". But along with her other three children, it is very difficult for them to make a living. Her 11-year-old son works in a bakery for half a dollar a day and the other 9-year-old picks up rubbish for 30 minutes.

"My heart is broken, but I had to save my children," she said.

In the camps, they live on a few cents a day, which they earn by begging or pushing carts and thinking about how to survive as winter approaches.

"It is not right"

Every night, Abdul Rahim Akbar gathers bread to help the most deprived families. "I have seen about a hundred families who have made it to this camp. "Even my brother," he says.

The previous day he had gone to see Taliban officials to ask them for help. However, they are not able to help in a province where 90% of the population is at risk due to lack of adequate food.

The marriages "are due to financial problems, not to a rule imposed by the Taliban," Malaysia's interim governor, Malawi Abdul Sattar, told AFP.

Marriages of girls under the age of 16 are not allowed under a law of the previous government, which had the reins before the Taliban came to power in August.

According to a 2018 UNICEF report, 42% of families in Afghanistan have a daughter who married before the age of 18. Mainly for financial reasons, because marriage is often considered the means to ensure the survival of a family. However, girls who marry at an early age are at serious risk, from complications in childbirth to the possibility of falling victim to domestic violence.

For the husband, buying a girl is advantageous because it costs less than an older woman.

The scourge is also affecting displaced people in Herat, Afghanistan's third-largest city, just south. Alahuddin, a displaced person from Badghis, also states that he sold his 10-year-old daughter.

"I would never do it if I had a choice," he says. He has another daughter, aged 5, and if he can he will "sell her too".

However, harsh words are not enough to hide the suffering of the fathers. Their voice, their eyes betray the despair caused by the fact that they can not provide a living for their families.

"I know this is not right," said Baz Mohammad, a former Badge cultivator. "But I thought we would all die."

Source: ΑΠΕ - ΜΠΕ, AFP



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