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Parwana's ransom: a girl sold for child marriage

2021-12-03T05:36:48.782Z

The rescue of Parwana Malik: a 9-year-old girl sold for child marriage in Afghanistan is brought to safety.



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(CNN) -

Driving through a snow-covered mountain pass, the young mother huddles with her six children in the back seat of a car after leaving their makeshift camp in northwestern Afghanistan.

9-year-old Parwana Malik wears just a blanket to keep her warm and balances on her mother's lap alongside her siblings, as the family is rescued by an aid group that saves girls from child marriage.

"I am very happy," Parwana said during the trip.

"The [organization] got rid of my husband and my husband is old."

Last month, CNN reported that Parwana and several other underage girls were being sold by their parents so that other members of their families could eat.

  • This 9-year-old girl was sold to a stranger so her family could eat as Afghanistan crumbles

At the time, Parwana's father, Abdul Malik, said that she cried day and night before, begging him not to sell her saying she wanted to go to school and study instead.

After an international outcry as a result of the CNN story, Parwana was returned to her family due to community backlash against the buyer.

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The US-based nonprofit Too Young to Wed (TYTW) also got involved to relocate the girls, their siblings and their mothers to a safe home.

"This is a temporary solution," said Stephanie Sinclair, founder of TYTW.

"[But] really what we are trying to do is prevent girls from being sold into marriage."

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Afghanistan under pressure

Afghanistan's economic lives have been shattered since mid-August, when the Taliban took over after the departure of US and allied forces.

Billions of dollars in central bank assets have been frozen, banks are running out of cash, and salaries have not been paid for months.

  • Taliban executed dozens of Afghan security forces after they surrendered, says Human Rights Watch report

Now aid agencies and human rights groups, including Human Rights Watch, are warning that the country's poorest people face famine as the brutally cold winter progresses.

More than half of the country's roughly 39 million people will face emergency levels of hunger in March, according to a recent report from the Integrated Phase Classification of Food Security (CIF), which assesses food insecurity.

The report estimates that more than 3 million children under the age of five already suffer from acute malnutrition.

"The international community is turning its back as the country teeters on the precipice of a man-made catastrophe," said Dominik Stillhart, director of operations for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), who has just returned from a period on a six-day visit to Afghanistan.

Even before the Taliban took power, hunger was rife in the impoverished country, and now girls are paying the price with their bodies and lives.

"Young Afghan women (are) becoming the price of food," prominent Afghan women's rights activist Mahbouba Seraj told CNN.

"Because otherwise your family will starve."

Desperate families sell their daughters to survive in Afghanistan 5:45

Although marriage of children under the age of 15 is illegal throughout the country, it has been a common practice for years, especially in the more rural areas of Afghanistan.

And as the situation deteriorates, families are more desperate.

"Usually there is a lot of misery, there is a lot of abuse, there is a lot of abuse involved in these things," Seraj said, adding that some girls forced to marry die in childbirth because their bodies are too small to cope.

"Some of them can't take it. Most of them die quite young."

Women have long been treated as second-class citizens in Afghanistan, which was ranked the worst country in the world for women in the 2021 Women, Peace and Security Index.

And since the Taliban took power, many of the basic rights that women had fought for over the past two decades have been stripped away.

Limits have been placed on girls' education, women are banned from certain workplaces, and actresses can no longer appear in television dramas.

Escaping Child Marriage

After a four-hour drive through the mountain roads, Parwana's family arrived late at night at a small hotel in Herat, Afghanistan's third-largest city.

They were accompanied on their trip by a local representative from Too Young to Wed, along with the mother, Reza Gul, and her brother, Payinda.

Reza Gul and Payinda told CNN that Parwana's father had started their sale against their wishes.

"Of course he was angry, I fought with him and cried," Reza Gul said.

"He said he had no other choice."

  • What does it mean for women and girls that the Taliban have taken control of Afghanistan?

CNN received permission to film the sale of Parwana on October 24 to a 55-year-old man with white hair in exchange for cash, sheep and land worth approximately US $ 2,200 (200,000 Afghans).

"My father sold me because we don't have any bread, rice or flour," Parwana told CNN at the time.

"He has sold me to an old man."

The buyer, Qorban, told CNN it would be his "second marriage" and insisted that Parwana be treated kindly.

Parwana's mother said her daughter begged her to return home to her family and they allowed her some visits to the camp.

"She said they beat her and she didn't want to stay there," Reza Gul said.

"They treated me badly, cursed me, woke me up early and made me work," added Parwana.

After the CNN story about the Parwana situation was published, community outrage towards buyer Qorban pushed him into hiding, according to the family.

Since then, CNN has been unable to reach him or his family for comment.

In a follow-up CNN interview, Parwana's father said he was also criticized and felt pressured to change his story about the marriage in interviews with some local media outlets.

He confirmed his original interview with CNN and apologized.

About two weeks after her sale, Parwana was returned to her family, but her father still owes the equivalent of $ 2,200 to the buyer.

He had used the proceeds to pay off other debts.

"They gave me a new life"

Parwana and her five siblings were initially weary from the long journey and the sensory overload of the bright lights and city traffic.

But once settled in, they soon began to roll and laugh together in bed, enjoying their new adventure.

After two nights at the hotel, Too Young moved the Wed team to a nearby safe house, Parwana's first experience of living in a real home.

For the past four years, the family lived in a tent in a camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Qala-e-Naw in Badghis province.

"I feel so happy in this house," Parwana told CNN.

"They gave me a new life."

"I feel happy and safe here," Reza Gul said.

"My children have been eating well since we arrived, they are playing and we feel happy."

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The family will remain in the house during the winter months and will have the support and protection of TYTW, who often carry out these types of rescues.

The long-term plan for Parwana's family is still unclear, added Stephanie Sinclair of TYTW, and will depend on funding from the shelter.

"It is a moral imperative that the international community does not abandon the women and girls of Afghanistan," Sinclair said.

"Every life matters, and the lives we can save will enhance the experience for your entire family and your community."

Separately, TYTW is also trying to deliver food to the Qala-e-Naw camp, which is home to about 150 people.

This is also aimed at helping Parwana's father while he stays there to try to pay off his debt.

He gave TYTW permission to relocate his wife and children.

"We are happy that Parwana is rescued," said the father before his family left.

"We are happy that [TYTW] is helping us and providing us with a place to live."

"The tip of the iceberg"

Families in Afghanistan are facing desperate financial situations.

The CNN report also described two families from Ghor province in northwestern Afghanistan who were preparing to sell their young daughters.

10-year-old Magul was only days away from being sold for marriage when the CNN report was released.

He had threatened to commit suicide if the sale went through.

  • What is the key to preventing violence against women?

Sales of the girls are now on hold and TYTW is working to try to rescue them, along with their mothers and siblings, and relocate them to the same shelter where Parwana's family now lives.

Women's rights activists like Mahbouba Seraj, who runs a shelter for women and girls in Kabul, say the worst is yet to come for the women of Afghanistan.

"This is just the beginning, it really is the tip of the iceberg," Seraj said.

"It will continue to happen, with hunger, with winter, with poverty, with all that ignorance."

A local Taliban leader told CNN that they are trying to end the illegal practice of child marriage.

Mawlawi Baz Mohammad Sarwary, Badghis's director of information and culture, described the practice as "common" in the area due to extreme poverty.

Women's rights activist Mahbouba Seraj says the worst is yet to come for the women of Afghanistan.

"Child marriage is not a good thing and we condemn it," Sarwary said.

"Some are forced because they are poor."

He also called on governments and international groups to send aid to save families from hunger.

"We want your help for the people of Badghis," Sarwary said.

"We will give them security; what we have we will coordinate with them and everyone can work."

Stillhart of the ICRC says there is an urgent need to release funds for Afghanistan, to prevent hospitals and basic services from collapsing.

"I beg the international community to find solutions that allow for the maintenance of these essential services," Stillhart told CNN.

"That actually requires (an) injection of liquidity and cash because (the) entire economy in Afghanistan has contracted by a staggering 40% since the end of August, due to the suspension of bilateral aid."

Nonprofits still operating on the ground in Afghanistan are also calling for more coordinated action to help the poorest people in the country.

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At the local market in Herat, TYTW helps Parwana's family collect food and kitchen supplies.

"We were awake every night due to hunger," said Parwana's mother, Reza Gul.

"Now we are happy that this organization helped us and brought us to Herat."

Parwana, now liberated from a life with a husband six times her senior, is excited about the possibility of a good school.

"I would like to study to be a doctor," Parwana said.

"I would like to study to serve my people."

For those fighting for women's rights in Afghan society, Parwana's determination to achieve a better future for herself and her country provides a glimmer of hope that the next generation of girls can overcome the lack of value placed on them. to their lives.

Child marriage women in Afghanistan

Source: cnnespanol

All news articles on 2021-12-03

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