Since the fall of the former Afghan government and the rise of the Taliban, poverty and resource scarcity is already reaching near-unprecedented new heights. The US seizure of Afghanistan Central Bank assets and the withdrawal of aid could have a devastating impact on the lives of ordinary families; according to the United Nations Development Program, almost 97 percent of Afghanistan's population is at risk of falling below the poverty line. The country's economic and humanitarian situation has been described as being "in complete collapse".
The security of ordinary families has been stripped away by war and politics. And quietly, on the margins of Afghan society, what ought to be a never-event for humankind is taking place: families have felt they had no other option but to sell their children to survive.
"I sold my two-year-old daughter for 150,000 afghanis [$1,600]. With some of the money, I bought food and wood so that my other children wouldn’t be wasted by the cold and hunger. But I plan to sell another."
Survival in conflict-ravaged Afghanistan, now back in the hands of the Taliban, is as violent as the sentences above imply. Mohammad lives in a tent with his wife and five children in the Sheydaei area, about seven kilometers from the city of Herat. They were displaced by the fighting earlier this year. Selling one child was already the most difficult decision of his life. Already, he is bracing to take it again.
Many jobs, notably in the construction sector, have ceased to exist since the Taliban took over. Mohammad has been able to work for fewer than 10 days in the last three months. “Most days I can't even get together a few loaves of bread to feed my family," he told IranWire. “There is nothing to do in Herat. I go into the city most days, but I can't find a job. Life has become hard for us strangers; and I don’t understand how we’re meant to cope in winter with no money. If foreign governments and institutions could help us, at least no-one would have to sell their children. Most people in this area are hungry and poor."
With the cold season approaching, the living conditions of war refugees in Afghanistan's camps are deteriorating. International aid has largely been cut off since the rise of the Taliban and the future looks bleak for all Afghan people, most of all those who were already vulnerable. In the deprived province of Ghor to the west, average living conditions have long been below those of the central regions. Many poor families here have sold a child in order to save the rest.
Rakhshaneh is 56 years old, and suffers from shortness of breath. She formerly lived in the town of Tulk in Ghor province, but has been in Firuzkuh for four months now, forced from her home by political turmoil and drought. Rakhshaneh has also sold several of her children: each one for 100,000 afghanis.
She told IranWire that if her children fall ill, she would prefer to sell them to someone who can afford medical care than watch them die in front of her eyes. "One of my children is six years old and the other is four. I put them up for sale. The cold season is coming and we have nothing to burn or eat. I want to sell them to save others."
But who is buying them? Families with sons often buy young girls for a little money, and marry them off to their sons when they grow up. These future child brides whose parents have sold them have no idea what kind of a life awaits them. The response from human rights activists has been robust: one anti-child trafficking advocate, Ashraf Sadat, told IranWire he saw the situation as “catastrophic”. "When a family is forced to sell their child for money,” he said, “the depth of the tragedy imposed on Afghanistan is visible for all to see. The world must mobilize to send humanitarian aid."
In a short interview with IranWire, Noor al-Haq Haqqani, a Taliban cultural official in Herat province, also said international organizations ought to be helping those in need. He also said the international community should pressure the United States to liberate the more than $9bn of assets impounded from the Central Bank. But the reality is ordinary Afghans do not trust the Taliban to protect their livelihoods even if money flowed into state coffers again.
Poverty and unemployment were major issues rending the fabric of Afghan society before the Taliban came back to power. Now left in the cold by the international community, its citizens are losing hope. Children suffer the most, whether or not they realize it yet. The arms that were supposed to give them hugs and ensure their safety are, in exchange for money, delivering them to a future that may hold yet more violence and pain.
This article was written by a citizen journalist under a pseudonym.