On the morning of October 24, Parwana, a 9-year-old Afghan girl, was seen whimpering and digging her heels into the ground as she was being dragged down a dirt road by her new 55-year-old husband, Qorban, after being sold like cattle for 200,000 Afghanis which equates to $2,200 U.S. dollars’ worth of sheep and land.
Given the history of women’s equality in Afghanistan, or rather, the lack thereof, it is no surprise that child brides are running rampant in a country burdened by poverty and known for its war-torn environment since 1978 when the War in Afghanistan commenced.
In recent months, this issue has escalated following the U.S. withdrawal of troops in August of 2021, giving the Taliban the liberty to take back control once again.
That said, beginning over half a century ago, in 1964, Afghan women officially gained equality. However, in the 1990s, many rights were reduced under the brutal hands of the Taliban regime, including the motor skill of driving that was banned in 1996 with the penalty of this action being death.
Only in 2001 were girls and women allowed to pursue an education who make up 60% of the now 3.7 million children that attend school, and one year later, in 2002, where the first 7 of the 8,698 driver’s licenses were issued to women.
Nonetheless, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, 100 million girls worldwide were expected to marry prematurely, in most cases, well before turning 18.
This includes the estimated 39,000 girls that fall prey to child marriage each day. Furthermore, it is projected that these numbers will skyrocket to nearly 1 billion by 2030 pertaining to the number of girls sold each year.
In the case of Parwana, she is no stranger to the corrupt tendencies of families who are food insecure and feel that they must sell their own children for profit, as her mother, Reza Gul, now 27-years-old, was sold at the age of 13. Since then, she has given birth to 7 of her own children, 6 of which are girls.
“Of course, I was angry at the thought of selling my child. I fought and I cried,” Reza said.
This anger on behalf of the mother comes after the previous sale of Parwana’s 12-year-old sister, to repay a precipitous debt of the girls’ father, Abdul Malik, who felt like he had no other choice.
“My father has sold me because we don’t have bread, rice and flour,” Parwana said.
This predatory culture is a social justice issue that is not only uprooting young girls’ lives but also proving to be a significant burden that is taking a heavy toll upon the health of their bodies.
Afghan women’s rights activist, Mahbouba Seraj, describes the severity of these girls bearing children of their own, as many of them die during childbirth.
“Usually there is a lot of misery, there is a lot of mistreatment, there is a lot of abuse involved in these things. Some of them can’t take it. They mostly die pretty young,” Seraj said.
Even though marriage within Afghanistan is technically illegal under the age of 15, the laws have seemed to slip the minds of their sellers and buyers, as these girls are being treated as though they are second-class citizens.
Thus, after a dreadful two weeks that seemed to last a lifetime, Parwana was finally returned home by a CNN crew who caught wind of her story through, Stephanie Sinclair, founder of the United States-based non-profit organization, Too Young to Wed, that devotes their time to relocating the girls, their mothers and siblings in these situations.
Once safe, Parwana was able to share her accounts of being beaten while in the care of her husband, sparking an uproar in her community at the internally displaced persons camp in Qala-e-Naw in Badgis.
“They treated me badly. They were cursing me. They were making me wake up early and making me work,” Parwana said.
That said, the entire family is feeling grateful for their 4-hour car ride through the mountain landscape that opened up a whole new world for them, after arriving in the bustling, neighboring province of Herat, as Parwana along with her siblings and mother arrived at their safe house.
“They gave me a new life,” Parwana said.
Furthermore, the Head of the Badghis Information and Cultural Directorate, Mawlawi Baz Mohammad Sarwary, openly shames child marriage and blames this corrupt practice on extreme levels of poverty.
“Child marriage is not a good thing and we condemn it. Some are simply forced to because they are poor,” Mawlawi said.
Another advocate for girls like Parwana is, Dominik Stillhart, the Director of Operations for the International Committee of the Red Cross, who is calling for immediate action on behalf of the global humanitarian aid community to serve the voiceless in Afghanistan both financially and emotionally.
“I plead with the international community to find solutions that allow maintenance of these essential services. That indeed requires an injection of liquidity and cash because the whole economy in Afghanistan has shrunk by a staggering 40% since the end of August, because of the suspension of bilateral aid,” Stillhart said.
As for now, Parwana will remain in the custody of her mother while her father continues to pay off his debts, as she possesses her own aspirations of continuing her education.
“I would like to study to become a doctor. I would like to serve my people.”