Some desperate Afghan parents selling children for rest of the family to survive

An Afghan woman holds her children as she waits for a consultation outside a makeshift clinic at a sprawling settlement of mud brick huts housing those displaced by war and drought near Herat, Afghanistan, on Dec. 16.Mstyslav Chernov/The Associated Press

In a sprawling settlement of mud brick huts in western Afghanistan housing people displaced by drought and war, a woman is fighting to save her daughter.

Aziz Gul’s husband sold the 10-year-old girl into marriage without telling his wife, taking a down payment so he could feed his family of five children. Without that money, he told her, they would all starve. He had to sacrifice one to save the rest.

Many of Afghanistan’s growing number of destitute people are making desperate decisions such as these as their nation spirals into a vortex of poverty.

Afghanistan’s aid-dependent economy was already teetering when the Taliban seized power in mid-August amid a chaotic withdrawal of U.S. and NATO troops. The international community froze Afghanistan’s assets abroad and halted funding, unwilling to work with a Taliban government given its reputation for brutality during its previous rule 20 years ago.

The consequences have been devastating for a country battered by four decades of war, a punishing drought and the coronavirus pandemic. Legions of state employees, including doctors, haven’t been paid in months. Malnutrition and poverty stalk the most vulnerable, and aid groups say more than half the population faces acute food shortages.

“Day by day, the situation is deteriorating in this country, and especially children are suffering,” said Asuntha Charles, national director of the World Vision aid organization in Afghanistan, which runs a health clinic for displaced people near the western city of Herat. “Today I have been heartbroken to see that the families are willing to sell their children to feed other family members.

Arranging marriages for very young girls is a frequent practice throughout the region. The groom’s family – often distant relatives – pays money to seal the deal, and the child usually stays with her own parents until she is at least around 15 or 16. Yet with many unable to afford even basic food, some say they’d allow prospective grooms to take very young girls or are even trying to sell their sons.

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