When the first reports of Afghan families selling or marrying their adolescent daughters for food or debt settlement flashed up on my TV, I was somewhat skeptical. Widely followed mainstream media outlets Inc., especially western, have in the past covered such headlines for sensationalism, exaggeration, and profit, especially when it is out of poor and underprivileged countries. But I informed CAI contacts in Afghanistan to be on the lookout, nevertheless. It would be profoundly offensive to have kids bartered away for want of food, especially young girls, since they are easily dispensable to a male kowtowed society. The Taliban takeover of Afghanistan has exacerbated the already dire food distribution system in the country, so CAI has put a basic feeding program for the most vulnerable in place. I did not worry too much about the news reports, certain that the reported case was the usual hyperbole.
So, it was a shock of sorts to get a call from Wasi in Herat a few days later alerting me of the imminent sale of nine-year-old Fatema Hydery in Mazar-e-Sharif. Alhamd’Allah, we were able to stop it before the exchange occurred. There have been two other transactions since Fatema, both stopped in time.
The sale of a child by a mother is naturally repugnant to all of us. I was riled at the very idea and unfairly berated the CAI staff in the field. For cotton-picking sake, stop this insanity! We have food that we are distributing, so why are these mothers resorting to these horrid methods.
The reasons are not so straightforward, of course. I have the means to satisfy my hunger and basic survival necessities, so I am smug in the assumption that the sale of a child is repugnant. However, I also know that a vulnerable parent, especially a mother, will do anything for a hungry family. I say this from several years of first-hand experience. Choosing to sacrifice one child over the others, however, gives me a nasty feeling in the pit of my stomach.
I write this piece not because I want money for their salvation. I know, for sure, that none of you will let any of these innocent girls be bartered. I’ll ask for money, and you’ll give since it’s the right thing to do. Also, you’ve proven to be overly generous every time I’ve come begging. But I want you to know, from the child’s perspective, what it is to be poor, hungry, and cold. And dispensable. Why, oh why, it is the fairer sex that must pay the price, every time. Sons are seldom let go, if ever.
So, I share a brief story of Fatema and Tayeba, two of the three girls CAI was able to ‘save’. For now. Let us, even briefly, imagine our daughters in their shoes and see if our hearts can take it.
Fatema Haidari – Age 9
I was born in Abkalan, Sanq Charaq District, Sarepole Province, Afghanistan on March 08, 2017, to Sidighe Hussein and Mohammed Sarwar; I am the last of five siblings. Although we were poor, my father had a job as a guard at a construction site and earned about US$100 per month. This money did not give us any meat or other luxuries, but it did fill our stomachs with nan and sometimes meat when a generous neighbor had a few scraps for charity. I did not attend school; I am a girl.
When the Taliban took over, my father was let go because the construction site shut down. Suddenly, my father was home all day, doing nothing. He was scared, so was my madarjaan. There was no food, so madarjaan begged from neighbors. That stopped soon. We trooped to the local bazaar and begged there, but there were many others in our same situation, so the pickings were petty.
Unknown to any of us, my father went into debt, and the money was a welcome relief. A very brief relief. Without a job or other assets, and without consulting madarjaan, he decided to sell me to anybody who would pay enough money to settle the debt and buy adequate food for a few months. He reasoned that the six lives saved at the sacrifice of one was necessary. But when he advertised his intention to buyers, I was saved by a charity who agreed to give us six months of food if my father signed an undertaking I would never be sold. Madarjaan was furious.
We have enough food now. I am too young to understand why my father wanted to sell me or what my life as a sold daughter would be like, but I am glad we are not hungry anymore.
Meet Fatema Haidari.
Tayyeba Ewaz Ali
My name is Tayyeba, daughter of Masoome Husseini and Ewaz Ali; I am thirteen and I have two siblings. I was born in Ghazni, Ghazni Province, Afghanistan on May 30, 2010. Since my father was a soldier with the Afghan army, we had a reasonably comfortable life. I went to school and know how to read and write.
When the Taliban took over the country, my father was killed in combat and our ills in life began. Suddenly there was very little food. My mother, heartbroken and helpless, turned to relatives and charitable organizations for help but their resources were stretched as well.
Madarjaan then decided to marry me off to the highest bidder and asked me how I felt about it. What could I say? Since my sale was going to salvage the others in my family, I agreed. I have dreams of being educated and the choice of a husband that I can love and care about, but that became secondary to starvation for my family.
I am happy that people from Comfort Aid International were able to provide my mother with enough food for six months. I pray that we can find a way out of our food dilemma so I can continue going to school.
Meet Tayyeba Ewaz Ali.
These accounts are paraphrased to make them readable. They were narrated to a third person who summarized them to me apathetically. I’ve tried to inject some emotion into them. I hope.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this Blog are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the Blog do not reflect the views of CAI or her Trustees.
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