504 Afghan refugees killed by cold wave
UN warns of humanitarian disaster in Afghanistan

Afghans trading young daughters to pay debts

Associated Press, Feb. 15, 2001

JALALABAD, Afghanistan (February 15, 2001) - Poverty-stricken farmers, unable to pay their debts because of a Taliban ban on growing poppies -- the flower that produces opium -- are trading their young daughters to pay off loans, U.N. and Taliban officials say.

"I just talked to a farmer who said: 'I gave my small daughter to the one I got a loan from,"' said Amir Mohammed Haqqani, the Taliban's chief anti-narcotics man in Nangarhar province, which was the second-largest opium-producing region last year.

In deeply conservative Afghanistan, girls often are married off at puberty. According to tradition, the family of the groom pays the bride's parents for their daughters.

But girls are now being handed over in marriage at a much younger age to grooms who often are in their late 20s and early 30s, Poulsen said.

"I talked to this uncle who gave away his 7-year-old niece whose parents had died for three bags of 150 kilograms (330 pounds) of wheat," Hans-Christian Poulsen of the U.N. office for the coordination of humanitarian aid to Afghanistan said in western Herat. "This shows how desperate they are."

"The age is going down and they are going much further away to live with their new husbands," he said.

Farmers traditionally use opium as a source of credit, borrowing against the next year's harvest, said Bernard Frahi, director of the U.N. Drug Control Program in neighboring Afghanistan.

But this year, there was no harvest because of an edict banning cultivation of the crimson-red flower.

Combined with a devastating drought that has killed off entire herds, destroyed crops, turned 80,000 people into refugees in their own country and forced another 170,000 fleeing to neighboring Pakistan, the ban has left many farmers destitute, authorities said.

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