Women activists in Kabul held up signs that read “why is the world watching us die in silence?” on Tuesday, protesting the international community’s inaction on the crisis in Afghanistan.
Around a dozen women risked the wrath of the Taliban, who have banned demonstrations and shut them down using violence since taking power in August, holding banners affirming their “right to education” and “right to work”, before the Taliban stopped the press from approaching the march.
“We are asking the UN secretary-general to support our rights, to education, to work. We are deprived of everything today,” Wahida Amiri, one of the organisers for the Spontaneous Movement of Women Activists in Afghanistan, told AFP.
Their demonstration, addressing the “political, social and economic situation” in Afghanistan was initially planned to take place near the UN mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA).
But it was moved at the last minute to the entrance of the former “Green Zone”, where the buildings of several Western embassies are located, although most of their missions left the country as the Taliban took control.
Taliban gunmen at the entrance to the ultra-secure area initially asked the demonstrators and the press to move away.
An AFP reporter then saw a reinforcement of a dozen Taliban guards — most of them armed — push back journalists and confiscate the mobile phone of one local reporter who was filming the protest.
“We have nothing against the Taliban, we just want to demonstrate peacefully,” Amiri said.
Symbolic demonstrations by women have become a regular occurrence in Kabul in recent weeks as the Taliban have still not allowed them to return to work or permitted most girls to go to school.
Last Thursday about 20 women were allowed to march for more than 90 minutes, but several foreign and local journalists covering the rally were beaten by Taliban fighters.
Hunger: Fahima has wept many times since her husband sold their two young daughters into marriage to survive the drought gripping western Afghanistan.
Oblivious to the deal, six-year-old Faristeh and 18-month-old Shokriya sit by her side in a mud-brick and tarpaulin shelter for displaced people.
“My husband said if we don’t give away our daughters, we will all die because we don’t have anything to eat,” Fahima said of the choice now facing thousands of Afghan families.
“I feel bad giving away my daughters for money.”
The oldest commanded a bride price of $3,350 and the toddler $2,800 — to be paid in instalments over several years until the time comes to join their new families, their future husbands still minors themselves.
Child marriage has been practised in Afghanistan for centuries, but war and climate change-related poverty have driven many families to resort to striking deals earlier and earlier in girls’ lives.
Boys’ parents can drive a harder bargain and secure younger girls, spacing out the repayments.
The World Food Program warned Monday that more than half the population of Afghanistan, around 22.8 million people, will face acute food insecurity from November.
In Qala-i-Naw, capital of the western province of Badghis — one of the regions worst affected by the drought — there is shame and grief.
Village and displaced people’s camp leaders say the numbers of young girls getting betrothed started to rise during a 2018 famine and surged this year when the rains failed once more.
Among farmers driven from their homes, AFP journalists quickly found more than a dozen families who felt forced to sell their daughters into marriage. Fahima’s 25-year-old neighbour in the camp, Sabehreh, ran up a bill at a grocer’s shop to feed her family. The business owner warned that they would be jailed if they could not repay him. To cover the debt, the family agreed that their three-year-old daughter, Zakereh, would be betrothed to the grocer’s four-year-old son, Zabiuallah.
The infants are ignorant of their future fate, the shopkeeper having elected to wait until the pair are older before taking charge of the girl’s upkeep.
“I’m not happy to have done that, but we had nothing to eat or drink,” Sabehreh told AFP.
“If this continues, we’ll have to give up our three-month-old,” she said, sitting by the iron cradle holding the sleeping infant, as the first chills of winter penetrated the bleak camp.
Another neighbour, Gul Bibi, confirmed that many families in the camp had resorted to child marriage.
Her own daughter Asho, aged eight or nine, is betrothed to a 23-year-old man to whose family Gul Bibi was indebted. The young man is away in nearby Iran, and she dreads the day of his return.
“We know it’s not right, but we don’t have the choice,” commented Hayatullah, a passer-by who overheard the mother’s sad tale.