Tuesday, April 16

Economic collapse multiplies forced child marriages in Afghanistan

Sharifa looks at her mother with a serious expression. She is ten years old, she has never set foot in school. Her red shawl makes her dark complexion and round eyes stand out. Pretty eyes with a sad, empty look. “Mom, why did you do this to me?” is the only sentence that comes out of her mouth. Her mother, Rukia, cries inconsolably with a baby in her arms.

Sharifa is the oldest of six siblings and has just been sold to a relative for 150,000 Afghanis, about 1,500 euros in exchange. Her money has already been spent because they needed it to pay for the medical treatment of her father, a truck driver who had an accident and is struggling between life and death in a hospital in Pakistan. Now the buyer claims her little girl, whom he wants to marry her 15-year-old son. “I’m sorry that I don’t have money left for poison so I can commit suicide, I can’t live with this pain and with my starving children, I can’t take it anymore,” Rukia despairs.

Where Kabul ends and the mountain begins, there is a sea of ​​adobe houses built in the last nine years by eight hundred displaced families from Kandahar. They came to the capital fleeing fighting between international forces and the Taliban and over the years this temporary camp has become their home.

They have no drinking water or electricity, the stench is unbearable in the main arteries where the drains of each shack converge and an army of half-naked children play among the stones. They are the poor among the poor, who after the arrival of the Emirate have become miserable because they have lost the little help that came to this place. They are abandoned.

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“Better to get some money now than nothing if he dies,” says Mohamed Azin, who has put up his three-year-old daughter as collateral for a loan.

Sharifa’s family shares a courtyard with three other clans. Here a fire is lit once every three days to cook rice. The rest of the diet consists of dry bread, which is normally what is given to animals in Afghanistan because you can buy a kilo for just 30 Afghanis (0.30 euros in exchange). «Before we had temporary jobs and there were international organizations that helped us. UNICEF made the wells, others brought some food and clothes… But all this has ended in the last year. The Taliban not only do not help, but they ask the Afghan organizations not to do so either with the aim of returning us to Kandahar. They don’t want us in Kabul,” laments Malek Aladat, the director of this camp where “the sale of girls for marriages has skyrocketed due to extreme misery.”

Mohamed Azin with his daughter Fariza. /

M. Ayestaran

Forced child marriage is a centuries-old practice in Afghanistan, which multiplies in situations of economic crisis such as the one the country is suffering at the moment. The more desperate the situation of the families, the more the cases increase and these are more and more extreme as UNICEF denounces, which in the last year has come to document the delivery in marriage of a baby of only 20 days.

According to data from the UN agency, a quarter of women between the ages of 15 and 49 have been married before the age of 18. According to the country’s Constitution, approved by the previous regime, the legal age for marriage is 16 years for girls and 18 years for boys, but the weight of the tradition of child marriages, especially in rural areas, can more than the law.

“We are sick”

Fariza is not even allowed to ask her father why he is doing this to her. The girl is three years old. She lives a few meters from Sharifa and she too has just been sold for 150,000 Afghanis. “We are all sick at home and we have decided to sell it before her condition worsens and she dies. Better to get some money now than not be able to get a single Afghani if ​​she dies », explains her father, Mohamed Azin, coldly.

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He has two other daughters and does not rule out doing the same. In this case, the sale of the girl is a kind of guarantee to cover a loan and if Mohamed manages to repay the amount within ten years, he will not have to hand over Fariza. The mother doesn’t even want to hear about it and she yells at her husband that she would rather die than give up the girl. The little girl has blue eyes that illuminate the interior of the adobe house where they live. She plays with her sisters oblivious to the situation in which she is the protagonist.

Sharifa and Fariza put a name and a face to a sordid tragedy that has worsened since the arrival of the Emirate and its consequences, including the threat of famine. While the West observes it with horror, for Afghans it is an ancestral custom that is beyond religion, but that marks forever the lives of some girls whose sale serves to temporarily alleviate the economic problems of families. Money is spent quickly in this context, but the sorrow of losing a daughter is never erased, as Rukia’s inconsolable crying as she holds Sharifa’s hand and Fariza’s mother’s muffled cry show.


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