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Afghan Girls Sold Into Marriage to Feed Their Families

Sociologist researcher and translator working in the development of Human Rights.

9-year-old Parwana was sold into marriage for around $2200.

9-year-old Parwana was sold into marriage for around $2200.

How the Taliban Returned to Power

On August 15th, 2021, the Taliban, an Islamic political military organization, took over the city of Kabul, claiming rule over the country of Afghanistan. Prior to this, the USA and other Western forces had spent around two decades in the country with the declared goal of restructuring the government and instilling values regarding human rights and gender equality. But after billions of dollars were spent over these two decades, these military forces accelerated the removal of their troops when the Taliban took power. Through a complicated and questionable process, forces were officially removed from the country by August 31st, 2021.

During the Western withdrawal, thousands of Afghans who worked for Western countries were granted visas, hoping to leave Afghanistan for a better life. Others who were not able to get a visa tried to flee the country, due to fear of what was to come with the Taliban rule. From 1996 to 2001, the Taliban ruled the country with strict and brutal laws that breached human and women’s rights.

Economic And Humanitarian Crises

Since they retook the country, the Taliban have said that they do not want to rule Afghanistan in a brutal way. They state that they wish for peace and for women to have rights—as long as these rights are in line with the Quran. However, complicating these good intentions, this change of power has brought an economic and humanitarian crisis to the country, freezing bank funds as well as causing inflation in common goods such as food. Currently, no country in the world has officially recognized the Taliban as a formal government and because of this, billions of dollars of Afghan's funds and assets remain frozen (1). Many people are running out of money, and with few work opportunities, they must seek other means to feed themselves and their families. UNICEF claims that over 14 million people in Afghanistan, over one-third of the population, are facing hunger (2). Furthermore, 3.2 million children are suffering from malnutrition. The World Food Program claims that in November, 2021, around half of the population will be at risk of hunger (3).

Mother Sabehre, with her 3-year-old daughter, Zakereh, who will be sold into marriage to forgive a debt

Mother Sabehre, with her 3-year-old daughter, Zakereh, who will be sold into marriage to forgive a debt

Girls Being Sold Into Marriage

Historically, women and girls have been marginalized in many societies, and during an economic crisis, this marginalization can become worse. In order for families to feed themselves, many are going to such lengths as to sell their young daughters into marriage to buy food, even though a few months after such a sale families may need to find new means to buy food. The economic crisis, as well as a drought, is causing a humanitarian crisis where girls are left vulnerable to being used as a means of trade. According to the Afghanistan Civil Code, the age for women to marry in the country is 16 years old (and for men, 18 years); however, children are sold by their families at far below this age (4).

The economic crisis has also caused families to borrow money as well as accumulate “tabs” in stores and markets. Many families cannot pay their debts; therefore, they are forced to give their daughters as collateral to be married to the “debt collector” or his family. An example of this happened in Badghis Province, when a mother, Sabehreh, and her family could not pay their debt at a grocery store. To forgive the debt, and to avoid being jailed, the family agreed to give Zakereh, their 3-year-old- daughter, to the storekeeper as a wife for his four-year-old-son, Zabiuallah. Sabehreh explained that she was not happy with what she had done to her daughter, but that she had no choice: her family had nothing to eat nor drink.

Another family currently living in a camp for displaced people was forced to sell their daughters into marriage in order to feed their family of eight. In the last few months, the family has sold their 12-year-old and 9-year-old daughters. Parwana, the youngest, was sold as a wife to a 55-year-old man for $2,200 (6). The father, Abdul Malik, explained that he had to sell his daughters in order “to keep other family members alive.” He stated, however, that his decision has left him with guilt and shame. When Parwana was given to the man, she tried to resist, but her fate was already dealt. In the Ghor Province, despite her threats to take her own life, Magul, a 10-year-old girl, was sold to a 70-year-old man in order to settle her family’s debts (5)

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What Is Being Done

These are but a few cases of the thousands of girls being given up into marriage to settle debts and prevent families going hungry. Local Taliban leaders in Badghis say they will distribute food to stop families from selling their daughters, and plan to develop laws that jail families for selling their children. However, this humanitarian crisis is spread out past Badghis and only time will tell if this plan ever solves the problem in this province.

In September, 2021, it was announced that UN donors had pledged more than 1 billion dollars to help the people of Afghanistan and to avoid a mass humanitarian crisis (7). However, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported that as of right now, less than half of these funds had been received. According to the UN, a minimum of $667 million would be required to meet the “crucial needs” of the Afghan people (8). In October, 2021, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) developed a special trust fund for Afghanistan in order to provide immediate aid to families. Germany has already provided 50 million euros of aid towards the fund.

Can This Trend Be Stopped?

With every passing day, more and more Afghan families are at risk of going hungry, leading to malnutrition in children as well as the sale of girls into marriage. The hope is that the donor fund from the international community as well as the UNDP trust fund will be able to address the economic and humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan in a timely manner. If not, the country and its children’s well-being will continue to be at risk.

Sources

(1)Taliban says failure to recognise their government could have global effects | Reuters

(2) Half of Afghanistan’s children under five expected to suffer from acute malnutrition as hunger takes root for millions (unicef.org)

(3) Hunger forces Afghans to sell young daughters into marriage - World - DAWN.COM

(4) Boys With Brides: Afghanistan's Untold Dilemma Of Underage Marriages (rferl.org)

(5) Afghan families are selling their children so they can eat as the economy crumbles - CNN

(6)No country for young girls: Afghan man sells 9-year-old daughter to ‘keep family alive’ - World News (indiatoday.in)

(7) Donors pledge $1bn in aid for Afghanistan as UN warns of crisis | News | Al Jazeera

(8) $667 million funding call to help Afghans through economic crisis | | UN News

(9) New UN Development Programme emergency initiative to support Afghan people in need | United Nations Development Programme (undp.org)

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