Girls as bargaining chips in Afghanistan

Zulmaï, who had taken out an $8,500 loan from a family, offered his youngest habiba in marriage to the son of his creditors.Photo: Radio Canada / Marie-Eve Bédard

Her hair is messy red with henna. Her green eyes sparkle when she smiles, and her mouth reveals adult teeth that have not yet finished growing. Aside from dirt covering her bare feet in the garbage littering the dirt floor, Habiba looks like a seven-year-old girl as we know her.

Zulmaï, his father, was a policeman in the Afghan National Army. A job he was proud of. However, when he realized that the government was about to collapse, he gave it up.

I don’t make any money at allsighs the man with weather-beaten skin from years of exposure to the harsh southern Afghan sun.

Zulmaï lost his home and settled with his family in a refugee camp. A few curtains, earthen walls and a bit of straw serve as shelter. In order to survive, the man went into debt.

Habiba’s father, Zulmai, was a police officer in the Afghan National Army. When he realized that the government would be overthrown by the Taliban, he quit his job. He is here with his two daughters.Photo: Radio Canada / Marie-Eve Bédard

He owes $8,500 to a family who are now demanding repayment. That’s his right, he says, but he has no money. So he offered his youngest Habiba in marriage to the son of his creditors.

The family says it’s better if she moves in to work with them instead of doing nothing with me, but I tell them she’s too young to work.

Habiba is clutching her father’s shirt to bury her face in it when she hears it. Zulmaï told her what was happening to her without giving her the details of what this marriage meant.

She knows and she tells me she doesn’t want to go, she’s too small. You see how she loves me.

“She tells me she doesn’t want to go, she’s too young. You see how much she loves me,” Zulmaï testified of her daughter Habiba, who was offered in marriage to the son of her creditors.Photo: Radio Canada / Marie-Eve Bédard

Most of the 300 or so people living in a slum camp in the heart of Kandahar have been displaced from Badghis province by years of fighting and poverty. The small piece of occupied land is bordered by a mountain of garbage cans rotting in the sun. The smell grabs you by the throat.

Ghuncha Gul and her children search for plastic and metal. These materials they sell will allow them to survive.Photo: Radio Canada / Marie-Eve Bédard

Our whole life is this waste. We scavenge them so we can sell the plastic and metal we find to survivesaid Ghuncha Gul.

He only has boys. And he counts on them to work the foul hills every day. Degrading but honest work, Ghuncha Gul insists. That didn’t stop the Taliban from arresting one of his sons a week ago. Instead of releasing him, they asked his father to let him stay with them so that he could attend Koranic school.

They told me that they would keep him in the madrassa and that he could come to see us once a week.

But it’s food their children demand, explains Ghuncha Gul. And for that, the father needs all her little hands at work.

Sell ​​your daughter to survive

Photo: Radio Canada / Marie-Eve Bédard

We’re just watching life go by, there’s nothing herelaments Tsar Bibi, covered in a blue burqa surrounded by spots. We are worth nothing to the Taliban, why should they help us?

Tsar Bibi’s husband also owed thousands of dollars to distant relatives. A loan that must be repaid. His eight-year-old daughter Rukia will act as pay.

Whether she’s years away from puberty or not, her mother says she has no choice.

I have to give it to them, it’s an obligation. There is no other solution. »

A quote from Tsar Bibi, mother of little Rukia, 8 years old

Sitting next to him, Rukia can’t help but smile and giggle. She doesn’t know for a second what awaits her and doesn’t pay attention to the conversations of the adults around her.

Tsar Bibi’s daughter, Rukia, is forced into marriage to pay off her father’s debts.Photo: Radio Canada / Marie-Eve Bédard

If I tell her, she won’t accept it. But if they come for my daughter, I’ll give her to them whether she likes it or not, her mother said. At eight years old, it is impossible for her to be happy about it.

When the time comes, Tsar Bibi will lie to Rukia. She will tell him that she will live with an uncle she has never met. What happens to him after that is no longer his responsibility, she says.

I have no idea how she will react there. Of course she is too young to understand her situation. I’m sure she will cry and not be able to accept her fate.

Tsar Bibi is accompanied by her daughter Rukia and another of her children.Photo: Radio Canada / Marie-Eve Bédard

In order not to interfere with family affairs, there is no legal minimum age for marriage in Afghanistan. This did not prevent the Taliban from issuing an edict specifying the maximum amount that can be paid for a young girl.

A little more than the equivalent of 5,000 Canadian dollars: According to the decree, a young bride can be worth that much.

Before the Taliban came to power, the legal age for marriage was 16.

According to a report released by UNICEF in 2018, 28% of women between the ages of 18 and 49 were married before the age of 18. The organization is concerned about a significant increase in this scourge in recent months.

If you ask Abdul Rahman how many children he has, he spontaneously answers seven, seven boys, he says. Then he changes his mind: He also has three daughters.

Three of them are girls and seven are boys. it’s my daughterhe said, gesturing towards Salia.

The little one’s face is covered with subtle freckles that give her a mischievous look and her eyes are made up black.

Salia’s father sold them in the village from which he had fled, heavily indebted.Photo: Radio Canada / Marie-Eve Bédard

In the tent that serves as their home, she recites verses from the Koran. A few times a week Salia can go to the girls’ religious school near the camp. Those are the only schools that are open, his mother says. There she learns to recite the Koran, but she cannot read it. Core subjects are not on the curriculum.

When asked what she would like, Salia replies shyly that she would like to learn to write.

A dream that is as simple as it is unattainable. Her father, also heavily in debt, sold her in the village from which he had fled.

Abdul Rahman is accompanied by three little girls: Rukia, Salia and Fawzia. Salia is his daughter.Photo: Radio Canada / Marie-Eve Bédard

We have no excuse for our daughter. Father and mother are to blame, not her. Why does her parents have to give her something like this? It’s impossible to negotiate. You have to pay your debtssays Abdul Rahman.

We don’t seem to owe anything to these little girls, who will be women without ever really having been children.

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