December 31, 2021 – 19:12
Among mud-brick huts in western Afghanistan, where people displaced by drought and war are taking refuge, a woman is struggling to save her daughter.
Aziz Gul sold his 10-year-old daughter to marry without telling his wife, taking an advance so he could feed his family of five children. Otherwise, he later told his wife, we would all starve to death. He had to sacrifice a family member to save others.
A growing number of poor people in Afghanistan are making such desperate decisions as their country slips into a whirlpool of poverty.
Arranging weddings for very young girls is common in the region. The groom’s family pays money to sign the agreement and the child usually stays with her parents until she becomes, at least, about 15 years old.
However, since many of them can not even afford basic food, some say they would allow the future groom to take their daughters at a very young age, and they are even trying to sell their sons.
Ms. Gul, unusually in this deeply patriarchal, male-dominated society, is resisting. Married herself at the age of 15, she says she will kill herself if her daughter, Qandi Gul, is taken away.
When my husband told me he had sold Qandi, “my heart stopped beating. I wanted to die at that moment, but maybe God did not want me to die,” said Ms Gul, with Qandi standing next to her. looking shyly from below under her sky-colored handkerchief.
Her husband told her he sold a family member to save the others, saying otherwise everyone would have died.
Mrs. Gul gathered her brother and the village elders and with their help secured a “divorce” for her daughter, Qandi, on the condition that she pay about $ 1,000 that her husband received. She does not have this money.
Her husband fled, probably out of fear that Ms. Gul might report him to the authorities.
The Taliban government recently banned forced marriages.
Ms. Gul says she is not sure how long she can avoid the family of the potential groom, a man about 21 years old.
Elsewhere in the camp, Hamid Abdullah, a father of four, was also selling his young daughters in arranged marriages because of the need for money to treat his chronically ill wife, who is pregnant with their fifth child.
He can not repay the loan he took out to finance his wife’s treatments. So, three years ago, he took an advance on his eldest daughter, Hoshran, now 7, in a arranged marriage with a now 18-year-old boy.
The family that bought Hoshran is waiting until she grows up before she pays the full amount and gets it. But Abdullah needs the money now, so he is trying to arrange a marriage for his second daughter, 6-year-old Nazia, for about $ 200-300.
“We have no food to eat,” he says. And he can not pay his wife’s doctor.
Afghanistan’s foreign aid-dependent economy was already in turmoil when the Taliban took power in mid-August following a chaotic withdrawal of US and NATO troops.
The international community froze Afghanistan’s assets abroad and cut off funding, unwilling to work with a Taliban government that had a reputation for brutality during its previous rule 20 years ago.
The consequences have been devastating for a country hit by war, drought and the coronavirus pandemic.
State employees have not been paid for months. Malnutrition threatens the most vulnerable and humanitarian organizations say more than half the population faces acute food shortages.
“The situation is deteriorating in this country, and especially children are suffering,” said Asuntha Charles, director of the humanitarian organization World Vision in Afghanistan, which runs a health clinic for displaced people near the western city of Herat.
“Today I am heartbroken to see that families are ready to sell their children to feed other family members,” she added.
Buying boys is believed to be less common than that of girls and when it happens, it seems to be the case of families without boys buying babies.
The despair of millions of people is evident as more and more people face hunger, and about 3.2 million children under the age of 5 face acute malnutrition, according to a UN report.
Ms. Charles called on “the humanitarian community to stand up and support the people of Afghanistan,” with funds the country desperately needs. / voa