As Taliban-ruled Afghanistan descends into an economic crisis, a proscribed practice has reared its ugly head in many parts of the country that of selling young girls into marriage.
In recent months, many displaced Afghan families battling poverty and starvation have been forced to make the unpalatable choice of marrying off their barely adolescent daughters in exchange for money and sustenance that would ensure their survival.
One such heart-wrenching story is of nine-year-old Parwana Malik, whose family sold her to 55-year-old Qorban last month, reported CNN. Living in a camp for internally displaced people in the warn-torn country’s Badghis province, Parwana’s family of eight could barely make ends meet with jobs hard to come by and foreign aid drying up since the Taliban takeover.
In an interview to CNN, Parwana’s father Abdul Malik revealed he had already sold his 12-year-old daughter a couple of months ago. Now, he was forced to sell off another daughter “to keep other family members alive”, a decision that’s left him “broken” with guilt, shame and worry.
On her part, Parwana said she wanted to study and become a teacher. But her family’s dire financial circumstances have closed this door for her. Asked about her upcoming “marriage”, she fears that the “old man” would beat her and force her to work in his house.
Two days later, the buyer Qorban arrived at the Malik family’s home, paid 200,000 Afghanis (about $2,200) in the form of sheep, land and cash to Parwana’s father, and drove off with the girl.
Abdul Malik’s parting words to his daughter’s new owner were, “This is your bride. Please take care of her … please don’t beat her.” In response, Qorban assured the weeping father that he would be kind to Parwana and treat her like a family member.
In neighbouring Ghor province, 10-year-old Magul is distraught at the prospect of being married off to a 70-year-old creditor her family owes money to. “I don’t want to leave my parents. If they make me go, I will kill myself,” an inconsolable Magul told CNN.
Like Parwana and Magul, the future of scores of Afghan girls is shrouded in uncertainty. With the Taliban barring women from secondary education and poverty on the rise, more and more girls are being pushed into the marriage market.
“As long as a girl is in school, her family is invested in her future,” said Heather Barr, from Human Rights Watch. “As soon as a girl falls out of education, then suddenly it becomes much more likely that she’s going to be married off.”