IN A CRUMBLING ONE-ROOM APARTMENT IN Kabul’s Old City, two 20-something sisters and their 45-year-old mother are smoking cannabis laced with heroin. They don’t look up as we enter awkwardly, following our translator to sit on the far end of the carpet.
I count eight children, the youngest of whom is just three years old. Much to the amusement of the smoking women, one of their daughters, a 12-year-old, takes a few puffs of a discarded joint to show us that she too knows how to smoke.
The Chindawol neighborhood was once home to educated and elite Afghans. But over the years since the Soviets invaded Afghanistan in late December 1979, its streets and alleyways have been swarmed by mostly illiterate and low-skilled people.
There is no central sewage system and the putrid smell of waste drips from tired buildings. Outside, donkeys gnaw on bits of trash lying in the streets and snotty-nosed children dip buckets into dirty water that runs down the sandy pavements. They use the filthy liquid to wash parked cars in a bid to earn a few pennies. Not one traffic light works in the country’s capital city, Kabul.
The older woman whose lined face resembles that of an 80-year-old, opens a sack of rice riddled with mice droppings that a neighbor gave them. The wide-eyed children stare. The translator explains they haven’t eaten for four days. As I wrap up the interview, the 12-year-old whispers in a choked voice that her mother tried to sell her. Raw with pain, she spits out the words. She recalls how her mother took her to the bazaar and after the daughter understood what was happening, she started screaming. It drew the attention of an old man who scolded her mother, gave her a few dollars and sent them home. Now as long as the girl spends her days going from house-to-house begging, her mother has promised not to sell her. She then stretches out her palm to me…
Sadly, this story is not that uncommon.
Since the capture of Afghanistan in August by the Taliban, a fundamentalist political and military movement, the situation in the country has reportedly deteriorated by the day. According to the United Nations, the new regime doesn’t have the funds to provide food and other basic essentials to the population.
The result is that more than half – a record 22.8 million people – will go hungry. In a barefaced attempt to survive, a growing number of families are choosing to sell their children. The mother of the 12-year-old had hoped to receive $300 for her daughter.
This is the second time the Taliban is in power in Afghanistan. The group first seized control in 1996 from the retreating Soviet army. They were ousted five years later with the arrival of American and NATO troops. History, many fear, is about to repeat itself.
Locals remember only too clearly the repression they faced under the Taliban then. Women were not allowed to work, study or appear in public without fully covering their body and accompanied by male escorts. Those who violated the organization’s strict interpretation of Islamic law were imprisoned, publicly flogged and even executed.
I’ve had a lot of personal losses over the past 40 years of war, but I’ve never been as hopeless and helpless as I am right now. – Naheed Samadi Bahram
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