Aziz Gul was married to the 10-year-old girl without her knowing. He took a down-payment to feed his five children. He told her that without the money they would all die. To save the rest, he had to give up one.
As Afghanistan spirals into poverty, many of its growing numbers of poor people make desperate decisions like these.
In mid-August, the Taliban took power in Afghanistan. This was despite the country being dependent on aid. Because of its brutality under its previous 20-year rule, the international community stopped funding Afghanistan and frozen Afghanistan's assets.
For a country that has been ravaged by war for four decades, droughts and the coronavirus epidemic, these are devastating consequences. In the past few months, thousands of state workers, including doctors, have not been paid. The most vulnerable are those who are suffering from malnutrition or poverty. Aid groups claim that more than half of the population is facing acute food shortages.
Asuntha Charles, the national director of World Vision in Afghanistan said that the country's situation is worsening day by day and children are especially suffering."
Charles stated, "Today, I was heartbroken to find that families are willing sell their children in order to feed their family members." "So, it's time for the humanitarian community stand up and support the people of Afghanistan."
It is common to arrange marriages for young girls in the region. The family of the groom, often distant relatives, pays money to secure the deal. The child stays with her parents until she turns 15 or 16. Many people are unable to afford basic food and some would allow potential grooms to take young girls. Some even try to sell their sons.
Gul is not typical in this patriarchal, male-dominated society. She was 15 when she got married and says that she would commit suicide if Qandi Gul, her daughter, were taken away.
Gul distinctly remembers the moment her husband sold Qandi. The family was able to eat for two months. She finally asked her husband, "Where did the money come from?" He replied.
"My heart stopped beating. Gul stated that she wished she could have died at the time. "Maybe God didn't want to me die." Qandi sat next to her mother, her hazel eyes staring shyly through her sky-blue headscarf. "Each night I think of that night...I die, and then come back to life." It was so hard.
She inquired about her husband's motives.
"He said that he wanted to sell one and save others. He said, "You would all have died that way." He said, "Dying was better than what you have done."
Gul rallied her village and told her brother, village elders, that her husband had sold her child. They helped her and she was able to get a divorce for her child with their support. However, she had to repay the 100,000 Afghanis (about $1,000) her husband received.
It's money she doesn’t have. Fearing Gul might defame her husband, she fled. Recently, the Taliban government announced that it would not allow women to be forced into marriages or use women and girls as exchangeable tokens to settle disputes.
She says that the family of the potential groom, a man aged around 21-22, has tried multiple times to claim the girl. She doesn't know how long she can keep them away.
"I am just so desperate. Gul stated that if I don't have the money to pay these people, and if I can't keep my child by my side then I will kill myself." "But then, I think about my other children. What will happen? "Who will feed them?" Her oldest is 12 years old, her youngest is just two months.
Gul, now alone, leaves her children behind with her mother as she works in a home for the elderly. After school, her 12-year-old son picks saffron. They barely have enough food, and there is only one saffron season in the fall.
Gul stated, "We don’t have anything."
Another part of the camp saw Hamid Abdullah, a father-of-4, selling his daughters to arrange marriages in desperate need of money to care for his wife, a chronically ill woman, who was pregnant with their fifth child.
Abdullah borrowed money from his wife to pay for her treatments. He said he can't repay it. Three years ago, he was able to pay a down-payment of $700 for his oldest daughter, Hoshran. He married an 18-year old in Badghis, their native province. Now, he's looking for someone to purchase his second daughter, Nazia (6 years old).
Abdullah said that he didn't have enough food and had to buy medication for his wife who would soon need additional treatment. "She requires another surgery. I don't own one afghani that can pay for the doctor.
He explained that the family who bought Hoshran will wait until she turns 18 before paying full amount.
He needs money to eat and pay his bills, so he's trying to arrange a marriage with Nazia for a sum of $200-$300.
"What should I do?" It is imperative that we do it.
Another family in Badghis is looking to sell their 8-year old son Salahuddin.
Guldasta, his mother, stated that her husband took the boy to the bazaar after days without food. She sold him to buy food for the rest of the family.
The 35-year old said, "I don’t want to sell him, but I have." "No mother can do that to her child. But when you are forced to, you must make a decision against all your will."
Salahuddin looked on in silence, blinking. His lips trembled slightly as he was surrounded by his seven siblings and brothers.
Shakir, his father, is blind in one eye with kidney problems. He said that the children had been crying for days because of hunger. He said that he had twice decided to take the boy with him to the bazaar, but twice he failed to make it through, not being able to. "But now, I feel I have no choice but to sell him."
Boys are less likely to be bought than girls. When it does happen, it is usually infant boys who have been adopted by families without any sons. Guldasta, in her despair, thought that such a family might want an eight-year-old.
As more people are hungry, the desperation of millions becomes clear. According to the U.N., around 3.2 million children below 5 years old will be suffering from acute malnutrition by the end of this year.
Nazia is one among them. After visiting World Vision's health clinic, the 4-year-old lay in her mother’s arms listlessly.
Fatima, Nazia's mother, said that Nazia was a small, plump child two years ago. Her emaciated limbs now cover bone. Her tiny heart beats clearly beneath her ribcage.
"The prices are high. Fatima stated that flour is very expensive and that cooking oil is quite expensive. "She keeps asking me to feed her meat, yogurt, and fruits all day." We don't own anything and don't even have the money to buy it.
Charles, World Vision's national Director for Afghanistan, stated that humanitarian aid funds were urgently needed.
She said, "I'm happy to hear that the pledges have been made." The pledges should not be seen only as promises. They must be implemented on the ground.