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Girls in Afghanistan Sold to Strangers as Country Devolves into Chaos

Girls in Afghanistan
“Women of Afghanistan.” Girls are being sold in the country after the Taliban takeover. Credit: Eric Draper, The White House/Public Domain

Girls in Afghanistan are now being openly sold to complete strangers as a result of the chaos that has reigned there since the Taliban retook the country in August of this year.

Although the practice of selling child brides, or at least arranging the marriages of prepubescent girls, to older men was a commonplace in former times throughout the country, the years when the United States and its partners assured the security of Afghanistan the practice was forbidden.

Girls and women who had been barred from education and employment under the years of Taliban rule in the 1990s were suddenly able to explore their world and contribute to it — and they were free, at least nominally, from becoming the legal chattel of men.

This may all be changing once again as Afghanistan slips into dark times after the retaking of the country in August. CNN spoke to several families who are grappling with how to survive these times, with their desperate financial situations forcing them, as they see it, to sell their daughters in “marriage.”

Girls in Afghanistan sold as chattel in dystopian world after Taliban takeover

Because the situation is so dire, the families agreed that CNN could use their real names and images for the disturbing story.

Nine-year-old Parwana Malik is one such girl who was turned over to a much older man, with white hair and a grizzled beard, as reporters watched.

Although she told interviewers before her “marriage” — after playing a game of tag with her friends — that she wanted to become a teacher, her parents turned her over to the man, who assured her parents that he would indeed take care of her.

She had already known a bit of what might have been in store for her, as she told reporters  that she was worried that he would beat her and force her to work for him in the house.

The Maliks have lived in a camp in the province of Baghdis for internally displaced people for four years now, so hardship is nothing new. Eking by on whatever humanitarian aid they could glean, they made ends meet by getting a few dollars a day from menial jobs.

Now that most international aid workers and American and other foreign peacekeepers have been forced out of the country, the situation is as dire as it can be for these desperate families, who now are having a hard time procuring enough food to eat.

Family sells second daughter to stave of starvation of remaining children

Incredibly, this isn’t the first daughter that the family has sold just to get the funds to scrape by — they sold their 12-year old several months ago, according to the CNN report.

Mohammad Naiem Nazem, a human rights activist in Badghis, told interviewers “Day by day, the numbers are increasing of families selling their children… Lack of food, lack of work, the families feel they have to do this.”

Parwana’s father, Abdul Malik, is racked with guilt and shame to the point that he cannot  sleep at night anymore — despite doing all he could to avoid such a catastrophic decision, including borrowing money from relatives and traveling far away in a fruitless search for work.

He told reporters before the sale of his daughter that he was “broken,” worrying what might befall his second daughter after being sold to an older man.

As the father of eight told CNN “I have to sell to keep other family members alive.”

However, the money he got from her sale will only keep body and soul together for several months before they come to the end of that largesse. He hopes ultimately to be able to find another solution, he says.

Parwana did try to persuade her parents to keep her, and she physically resisted her new “husband” Qorban’s hold on her as he led her to his home.

Reporters watched on October 24 as he arrived at the Malik home and gave her father 200,000 Afghanis (approximately $2,200) in the form of sheep, land and cash.

On his part, Qorban didn’t describe Parwani as his new wife, saying that he was already married and that his wife would take care of the nine-year-old as if she were one of their own, explaining “(Parwana) was cheap, and her father was very poor and he needs money.

“Absolutely cataclysmic” humanitarian situation

“She will be working in my home. I won’t beat her. I will treat her like a family member. I will be kind,” he told interviewers.

Dressed for the handover in a black head covering but wearing a brightly-colored garland around her neck like a bride, the girl hid her face and whimpered aloud, with her weeping father saying to her new owner “This is your bride. Please take care of her — you are responsible for her now, please don’t beat her.”

After Qorban agreed, he roughly took Parwana by the arm, leading her out the door to a waiting car.

Although the marriage of girls under 15 is illegal in Afghanistan, that has not changed the practice of the ancient custom, especially far from the larger cities.

Two months after the Taliban takeover, with foreign organizations and governments withholding much of the aid that had long sustained the country, Afghanistan is facing a winter that may very well be as brutal as the futures of their child “brides.”

A United Nations report states that more than half of Afghans are facing acute food insecurity with more than three million children under the age of five at risk of acute malnutrition.

Naturally, the prices for the food that is still available is sky-high and banks are running out of funds themselves.

Many of those who are fortunate enough to have work are not being paid for their labor. Heather Barr, the associate director of the women’s rights division at Human Rights Watch, says “It’s absolutely cataclysmic. We don’t have months or weeks to stem this emergency … we are in the emergency already.”

“I don’t want to leave my parents:” tragic accounts of girls sold in Afghanistan

The majority of these young girls are far too young to be able to legally consent to sex, making their “marriages” nothing more than years of statutory rape. Having unprotected sex, they face many complications in childbirth because of their underdeveloped bodies. The UNFPA says that pregnancy-related mortality rates for those 15 to 19 years old are more than double the rate for women aged 20 to 24.

Interviewer also spoke to Magul, a 10-year-old girl in a neighboring province, who is so upset about her looming fate that she cries every day. Knowing that she is about to be sold to a 70-year-old man to settle her family’s debt of 200,000 Afghanis ($2,200) she and her family spend their days distraught about what is to become of them.

“I don’t know what to do,” her father Ibrahim said. “Even if I don’t give (the buyer) my daughters, he will take them.”

Meanwhile, Magul protested “I really don’t want him. If they make me go, I will kill myself,” crying as she sat on the floor, pleading “I don’t want to leave my parents.”

Although local Taliban officials in Baghdis stress that they will soon distribute food to thwart this nefarious practice, no one seems to believe them.

“Once we implement this plan, if they continue to sell their kids we will put them in jail,” insists Mawlawai Jalaludin, a spokesperson from the Taliban’s Justice Department.

And although UN donors have promised more than $1 billion in humanitarian aid after the Taliban takeover, with $606 million targeted for Afghans’ immediate relief, less than half of those monies have been received as of now.

Isabelle Moussard Carlsen of the UNOCHA protests that “By not releasing the (development) funds that they are holding from the Taliban government, it’s the vulnerable, it’s the poor, it’s these young girls who are suffering.”

She says that although world leaders need to keep the Taliban accountable for their crimes, the longer the country goes without needed aid from abroad, the more families face either death by starvation or the selling of their daughters.

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