How desperation drove an Afghan father to sell his child

Since the Taliban’s return to power, Afghanistan’s economy has collapsed, leaving Afghans to face what some say is unprecedented poverty.

It’s a desperate situation that has seen underage children being sold as their parents struggle to survive, according to human rights activists.

In September 2021, the United Nations Development Program predicted that 97 per cent of Afghans could be living in poverty by mid-2022. By March, Achim Steiner, UNDP administrator, said “that number is being reached faster than anticipated.”

One-third of households with children lost their entire income after the Taliban’s takeover in August 2021; 18 per cent have sent their children out to work to bring food. These are the results of a Save the Children survey of 1,400 families in Afghanistan earlier this year.

Some parents have taken drastic measures. A resident of northern Takhar province sold his one-year-old son for around $4,700 (Canadian) to pay off his debts.

“I was a bodyguard at (a UN office) before the Taliban takeover,” Ahmadi told the Star via WhatsApp, speaking in Persian. The Star is not identifying him by his real name. “When the country fell, I lost my job, too. I owed some people for daily expenses and paying the rent. One day, one of them came and said to me to pay his money from him, or he would take one of my children.

“I had no other option; my friends did not have money to help me. After the Taliban’s takeover, there were no jobs.

“I prepared to take one of the children to sell. My wife was not satisfied with my decision, she argued with me. She even wanted to get divorced. I beat her, and took one of the kids.”

Asked about his feelings, he replied that it was not easy for him to make such decisions, but his creditors kept coming every day, and he had nothing valuable in his house but children to sell to pay off the debt. The people who buy male children are normally families who do not have children of their own.

About 20 million people, about half the Afghan population, are facing acute hunger, a UN-backed report warned in May.

The economy plummeted after the Taliban takeover last year; among other factors, international aid, especially assistance for development projects, was cut and infrastructure projects were halted.

The father of an eight-year-old girl who spoke to the Star described selling her for forced marriage. He said via WhatsApp that he could not tell her what she would likely face her, because she is too young to understand.

When she was at her father’s house, she brought drinking water and worked outside, washing rugs, to provide her father with $2 a day to help pay his debt.

The father said that he had a small shop and used to sell vegetables and feed his seven-member family, while his wife washed the neighbours’ clothes, but both of them lost their jobs after August 2021.

The money that families receive will go toward their debts, but they will be forced to sell their other children to survive, her father said.

“Afghan young girls are paying the price of food, because the families will starve to death.”

In a survey this year, Save the Children spoke to 30 families who had exchanged a child for debt. The agency’s analysis suggests that is a tiny fraction of how many children could have been sold since the Taliban’s return to power.

Afghanistan received an infusion of $40 million (US) in humanitarian aid last week, according to the country’s Taliban-controlled bank, Da Afghanistan Bank (DAB).

The country has received more than $1.7 billion in cash aid from the international community since the Taliban returned to power, the bank says. But there is little transparency in how it’s spent.

Mahbouba Seraj, a prominent women’s rights activist in Afghanistan, told the Star that winters have long been tough. Citing a Persian poem, she said via WhatsApp that “the winter season has arrived and is the season of death for the poor people of Afghanistan. For years and years it has been so.”

But in other years at least there have been “possibilities of a job, possibilities of some money, possibilities of them buying some wood and coal to or keep their rooms warmer.” She added that aid coming in needs to be better managed.

Ata Mohammad Noor, leader of the Jamiat-e Islami political party and former governor of Balkh province, said from Dubai that even small amounts of foreign aid will help people in need, but most of this aid is given to the Taliban’s hand-picked groups .

“They are indirectly distributed to the Taliban supporters,” he said via WhatsApp. “It will help the continuation of the Taliban regime. This will not help the half-paralyzed banking system in Afghanistan.”

The Taliban has repeatedly rejected that it is distributing aid to its supporters.

M. Naeem, spokesperson for the political office of the Taliban’s government in Doha, Qatar, told the Star that the Taliban isn’t interfering with the distribution of international aid.

Naeem said: “We accept we have financial problems but we have had achievements in the past year, too.”

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