A mom is struggling to preserve her daughter in a large colony of mud brick buildings in western Afghanistan, which houses families displaced by drought and war.
Aziz Gul’s husband married the 10-year-old girl without informing his wife, taking a down payment to sustain his family of five children. They would all starve if they didn’t have that money, he said. To save the others, he had to sacrifice one.
As their country slides into a vortex of poverty, many of Afghanistan’s rising number of poor people are making desperate decisions like these.
When the Taliban seized control in mid-August amid a chaotic departure of US and NATO forces, the aid-dependent country’s economy was already on the verge of collapse. The international community froze Afghanistan’s assets abroad and ceased all assistance, hesitant to deal with a Taliban administration due to the Taliban’s previous rule’s reputation for cruelty.
For a country that has been ravaged by four decades of conflict, a severe drought, and the coronavirus epidemic, the repercussions have been catastrophic. Thousands of state employees, including physicians, have gone months without pay. Malnutrition and poverty afflict the most vulnerable, with relief organizations estimating that more than half of the population is facing severe food shortages.
“The situation in this country is deteriorating day by day, and children in particular are suffering,” said Asuntha Charles, national director of World Vision in Afghanistan, which runs a health center for displaced persons just outside the western city of Herat.
“It breaks my heart today to see families prepared to sell their children to feed other family members,” Charles added. “As a result, this is the moment for the humanitarian community to step up and support the Afghan people.”
Throughout the region, arranging marriages for extremely young girls is a common practice. To finalize the transaction, the groom’s family – frequently distant cousins – pays money, and the kid normally lives with her parents until she is approximately 15 or 16. Some claim they’d allow potential grooms to take extremely young girls or are even trying to sell their boys since they can’t afford even basic sustenance.
Gul, on the other hand, is defying the patriarchal, male-dominated culture. She was married off at 15 and claims she would kill herself if her daughter, Qandi Gul, was taken away forcibly.
Gul vividly recalls the moment she learned her husband had sold Qandi. The family had been able to eat for almost two months. She eventually inquired as to where the money came from, and he informed her.
“My heart ceased to beat. “I wish I could have died at that moment,” Gul remarked, “but perhaps God didn’t want me to die.” Qandi sat next to her mother, her hazel eyes peeking out from under her sky-blue headscarf shyly. “Every time I remember that night, I die and resurrect.” It was quite challenging.”
She questioned her spouse about why he had done it.
“He stated that he intended to sell one while saving the others. ‘You would have all killed in this manner,’ he continued. ) ‘Dying was far better than what you’ve done,’ I informed him.
Gul rallied her community by informing her brother and village elders that her husband had secretly sold her kid. They backed her up, and with their aid, she was able to obtain a “divorce” for her kid, but only on the condition that she refund her husband the 100,000 afghanis (about $1,000).
She doesn’t have the funds. Her husband ran away, possibly fearful that Gul would report him to the authorities. The Taliban administration has established a prohibition on forcibly marrying women and using women and girls as bargaining chips in conflicts.
She claims that the family of the potential groom, a man in his early twenties, has sought to claim the daughter on multiple occasions. She’s not sure how much longer she can keep them at bay.
“I’m in such a precarious situation.” “I have vowed that if I can’t supply money to pay these individuals and maintain my kid by my side, I would kill myself,” Gul added. “But then I remember the other kids.” What will become of them? “Who is going to feed them?” Her oldest child is 12 years old, while her youngest child, her sixth, is just two months old.
Gul, who is now single, leaves the children with her elderly mother when she works in people’s homes. After school, her 12-year-old son goes saffron picking. It’s hardly enough to feed them, and the saffron season is brief, lasting only a few weeks in the fall.
Gul said, “We don’t have anything.”
Hamid Abdullah, a father of four, was selling his young daughters into arranged marriages in another area of the camp, desperate for money to cure his chronically sick wife, who was pregnant with their fifth child.
Abdullah stated he borrowed money to pay for his wife’s treatments and is unable to repay it. As a result, three years ago, he obtained a down payment for his eldest daughter Hoshran, now seven years old, to marry an 18-year-old in their home region of Badghis. He’s now seeking for a buyer for his second daughter, Nazia, who is six years old.
“We don’t have food,” Abdullah added, adding that he also needed to buy medicine for his wife, who would soon require more treatment. “She needs another operation, and I don’t have enough afghani to pay for it.”
He added that the family who purchased Hoshran is waiting till she is older before paying the whole sum.
However, he urgently requires funds for food and medication, so he is attempting to arrange a marriage for Nazia for 20,000-30,000 afghani ($200-$300).
“How should we proceed?” “We have no choice but to do it,” his wife, Bibi Jan, added. “It seemed as if someone had stolen a body part away from me when we made the decision.”
Another relocated family in the adjacent province of Badghis is considering selling their 8-year-old son Salahuddin.
Guldasta, the kid’s mother, revealed that after days without food, she instructed her husband to take the boy to the bazaar and sell him so that the others might eat.
“I don’t want to sell my son,” the 35-year-old said, “but I have to.” “No mother should do this to her kid, but when you don’t have a choice, you have no choice but to make a decision against your will.”
Salahuddin blinked and sat motionless watching. His mouth quivered slightly when he was surrounded by some of his seven siblings and sisters.
Shakir, who is blind in one eye and suffers from renal difficulties, claimed the youngsters had been sobbing for days because they were hungry. He stated he decided to take the youngster to the market twice, but both times he faltered, unable to carry it out. “However, I believe I now have no choice than to sell him.”
Males are said to be less commonly purchased than girls, and when they are, it tends to be baby boys purchased by families who do not have any sons. In her sorrow, Guldasta reasoned that such a family may be interested in an 8-year-old.
As more people suffer starvation, the despair of millions is evident. According to the United Nations, 3.2 million children under the age of five are anticipated to be malnourished by the end of the year.
One of them is Nazia. After attending the World Vision health facility, the 4-year-old lay still in her mother’s arms.
Nazia was a fat youngster two years ago, according to her mother Fatima. Her emaciated limbs are now just skin and bone. Her little heart may be seen beating beneath her ribs.
“The costs are exorbitant. “Everything is costly, even flour and cooking oil,” Fatima explained. “She’s been asking for steak, yogurt, and fruit all day.” We don’t have anything, and we don’t have the funds to purchase something for her.”
Humanitarian relief funding are badly required, according to Charles, World Vision’s country director for Afghanistan.
“I’m glad the promises have been made,” she remarked. The assurances, however, “must not remain promises; they must be viewed as actuality on the ground.”