PAN, July 9, 2014
The price of a girl
Throughout Afghanistan, women are bought and sold like any other commodity
By Sayed Noor-ul-Ayn
In a tragic tale, tribal law lessens the emotional blow to a family selling its daughters out of financial desperation.
Yet the sanctioned sale of girls in traditional communities highlights how girls and women are still regarded as commodities in Afghanistan.
Two girls and a little boy surround their mother, Shazia Sediq, who clenches her hands nervously under a blue burka. Like their mother, the children have not laughed in a long time.
Ramzia, 13 and Aziza, 11 wipe tears from their face as the elder sister explains their loss: “I wish Aziza and I were boys,” Ramzia said. “We could go to the city and polish shoes. We could make money and stop the sale of our little sisters.”
A question of honour
Their father Gholum Sediq — a suspected Taliban militant — originally sold Ramzia and Aziza to a person from neighbouring Baghlan Province for 45,000 Afghanis (US $796) shortly before he was arrested for his involvement in a road mine case in his village of Yateem in Chahar Darah District in Kunduz Province.
When Sediq was sent to prison and the girls’ buyers came to retrieve them, the villagers interfered, insisting that it was dishonourable for the girls to be bought by strangers.
A Jirga — an assembly of elders who make decisions for their communities based on tribal law— stepped in and decided that Sofi Khan Mohammad, a man from their village with no children of his own, could buy Sediq's twin other baby daughters - Razia and Marzai - for 12,000 Afghanis (US $213) instead of Ramzia and Aziza.
A financial transaction
Afghan girl's wedding day. (Photo: Paula Bronstein)
Now sitting in prison, Sediq claims he had no other way of providing for his family. “No father wants to be away from his children. But there is nothing I can do now,” he said.
Although there are no official figures, many families of imprisoned Taliban have likely experienced similar desperate situations.
“I am very happy,” Soufi Khan Mohammad said of his purchase. “When Razia and Marzia grow up, I will make several times more than what I paid. Until then, they are my daughters.”
A tradition of selling girls
Throughout Afghanistan, women are bought and sold like any other commodity, according to Nadera Giyah, Director of the Provincial Department of Women’s Affairs in Kunduz Province.
“If we do not fight and exterminate these unacceptable traditions, this problem of selling women and girls will not be addressed,” Giyah said, citing numerous examples of girls being swapped for expensive breeds of dogs or sold into prostitution.
Various civil society groups have launched a campaign to reunite the baby girls with their mother. Najeem Rahim, editor-in-chief of Rasanaee Newspaper, a member of this campaign, said the initiative managed to collect 25,000 Afghanis ($ US 445) for the Sediq family to take care of their children.
“We are trying to open a bank account for the family so that people could donate to their account on regular basis,” Rahim said.
Nevertheless, the Jirga deemed the mother, Shazia Sediq, financially incapable of caring for her children, thus Razia and Marzai would remain with Mohammad.
Yet since the girls are only eight months old, the Jirga stipulated that Mohammad bring the children to their mother every other day for a few hours until they mature into puberty.
Shazia says that although she misses her children dearly, she has no way of providing for their food, clothes and other necessities. She accepts the Jirga’s decision for her girls to remain with their purchaser Mohammad.
According to Shazia Sediq, the Jirga said when father Sediq is released from prison and wants buy back his children, he would have to reimburse Mohammad the purchase price plus the children’s living expenses incurred over the period they lived with Mohammad. The Jirga estimated the annual expenses for the children to be 35,000 Afghanis (US $623).
The Jirga's word
Mohammad Zaher Azimi, Director of the Provincial Department of Labour and Social Affairs, said they provided financial assistance to Shazia Sediq and allegedly returned the two girls to their mother.
The authority, however, is unaware of the Jirga’s decision and is unable to visit the family because of the threat of Taliban in the area.
“The Jirga sold the girls to me and nobody in the world can change it,” Mohammad said. “These girls are mine now.”
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