Her Father Sold Her. Her Mother Is Fighting to Keep Her

Desperate parents are selling kids to feed their starving families in Afghanistan
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Dec 31, 2021 9:00 AM CST
Her Father Sold Her. Her Mother Is Fighting to Keep Her
Qandi Gul holds her brother outside their home housing those displaced by war and drought near Herat, Afghanistan. Dec. 16, 2021. Gul’s father sold her 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...   (AP Photo/Mstyslav Chernov)

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. 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. But Gul, unusually in this deeply patriarchal, male-dominated society, is resisting.

Married off herself at 15, she says she would kill herself if her daughter, Qandi Gul, is forcibly taken away, reports the AP. Gul remembers well the moment she found out her husband had sold Qandi. For around two months, the family had been able to eat. Eventually, she asked her husband where the money came from, and he told her. "My heart stopped beating. I wished I could have died at that time, but maybe God didn’t want me to die," Gul said. She asked her husband why he did it. "He said he wanted to sell one and save the others. 'You all would have died this way,' [he said.] I told him, 'Dying was much better than what you have done.'"

Gul rallied her community, telling her brother and village elders that her husband had sold her child behind her back. They supported her, and with their help she secured a "divorce" for her child, but only on condition she repays the 100,000 afghanis (about $1,000) that her husband received. It’s money she doesn’t have. Her husband fled, possibly fearing Gul might denounce him to the authorities. The Taliban government recently announced a ban on forcing women into marriage or using women and girls as exchange tokens to settle disputes.

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The family of the prospective groom, a man of around 21 or 22, has already tried several times to claim the girl, she says. She is not sure how long she can fend them off. "If I can’t provide money to pay these people and can’t keep my daughter by my side, I have said that I will kill myself," Gul said. "But then I think about the other children. What will happen to them?" Her eldest is 12, her youngest—her sixth—just two months. Now alone, Gul leaves the children with her elderly mother while she goes to work in people’s homes. Her 12-year-old son works picking saffron after school. It’s barely enough to keep them fed, and the saffron season is short, only a few weeks in the fall. "We don’t have anything," Gul said. (Read the full story, which looks at two other desperate families who have sold or are trying to sell their children.).

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