Wracked by war and drought, some Afghan families selling young girls into marriage
Crushing poverty is forcing displaced people in Afghanistan to make some very desperate choices.
For some, this means selling their kidney. But for other families, it means selling their own daughters into marriage, a grim fate for thousands of young girls.
Children play in the dirt in a sprawl of camps on the outskirts of Herat, driven there by drought and war.
Hungry, unhealthy kids, not yet starving, but wretchedly poor.
In the camps, an elderly woman cries for help.
“Too many nights,” she tells CTV News, “I don’t have anything to eat.”
During the day it can be warm, but it gets freezing cold at night. And mud huts offer little comfort. People scavenge for scraps of plastic to burn or sell for a few cents.
Mullah Sadeq and his family arrived here a couple of months ago, to a plot of hard packed mud, scattered with flimsy cloth tents.
“The drought was so bad in our village, we came here looking for foreign aid,” he said.
And the need to survive has forced many to turn to an unimaginable solution: selling their daughters into marriage while they are still children.
It’s almost become common practice.
Seven-year-old Zinab has already been promised to a man from another province.
“We didn’t have any food or warm clothes,” says her mother. “So we sold my daughter to survive.”
There’s also a thriving mafia-like trade in selling organs.
One man sold a kidney two months ago for $3,000.
“I had debts,” he says. “And I had to feed my children. There was no other choice but to sell my kidney.”
Shah Wazir Ahmadi volunteers for a foundation trying to stop organ sales. But it’s not working, he says.
“Poor people are encouraged to do it,” he said. “And buyers come into the camps looking for sellers.”
One woman familiar with the trade is Delaram, who told CTV News that she not only sold her right kidney, but also two of her young daughters into future marriages.
She describes it as sacrificing one child to save others.
"Six months after the takeover by the Taliban, Afghanistan is hanging by a thread,” United Nations Secretary-General Antontio Guterres said in a security council meeting this week. “For Afghans, daily life has become a frozen hell."
The United Nations has called for more aid to be given to the country in order to boost the economy and help some of those who have been backed into a corner by poverty.
“The approximately $1 billion that we asked for last year to address the humanitarian crisis now must be supplemented by $4.4 billion in additional humanitarian assistance for 2022, as set out in our recent appeal,” UN Special Envoy on Afghanistan Deborah Lyons said in the meeting.
Lyons added that they are seeking an additional $3.6 billion for the One-UN Transitional Engagement Framework (TEF) for Afghanistan, an initiative that was launched today to assist Afghans in 2022.
“But this comprehensive and system-wide strategy introduces a basic human needs pillar that will deliver essential services such as health and education, as well as provide maintenance for community infrastructure and promote livelihoods and social cohesion with a special emphasis on the socioeconomic needs of women and girls,” she said.”
One of the big problems is that following the Taliban’s takeover, foreign aid has largely been cut off.
"At this moment of maximum need, these rules must be seriously reviewed,” Guterres said. “I repeat my call to issue general licenses covering transactions necessary to all humanitarian activities. We need to give financial institutions and commercial partners legal assurance that they can work with humanitarian operators without fear of breaching sanctions.”
Whether or not aid could come in time to save more young girls from being sold, and more families from resorting to selling organs, is unclear.
With the war in Afghanistan over, some of those who fled to Herat years ago say they’d be willing to return home now, but don’t have the means.