Afghanistan – Girls & Women Traded for Opium Debts
Author: Womens UN Report Network
Date: July 22, 2005
AFGHANISTAN: Girls and Women Traded for Opium Debts
HELMAND PROVINCE, 23
Jan 2007 (IRIN) – On 4 November 2006, Nasima, 25, a member of a local women’s
council, grabbed the AK-47 from the policeman guarding the council meeting in
the Grishk district of southern Helmand province and killed herself.
had enough of the daily beatings by her husband. Like many other women in
Helmand, Nasima was given away by her family in 2005. Her father owed a huge
amount to an opium dealer and, unable to return the money or provide the
quantity of opium he had promised, he offered his daughter to the smuggler, who
already had a wife and four children. Under Islamic law and in many Muslim
countries a man is allowed up to four wives.
“Nasima was enduring a
bitter life in the family. The family members and her husband considered her as
an extra burden,” Gulalai, head of the local women’s council in Grishk district,
Nasima’s case is just one of hundreds of such incidents where
women are traded for debts. Most go unreported in the troubled southern
provinces, where most of the opium in Afghanistan is produced.
I was 13 when my father
married me off to a 20-year-old man, whose father had given a loan to my
parents and they were unable to return the amount or the quantity of
The practice is also reported in other
provinces, particularly the east and the north, but the stakes are higher in the
south, the heartland for drug trading.
In another case in the Marja
district of Helmand, 18-year-old Saliha considers herself lucky to be living a
relatively peaceful life. “I was 13 when my father married me off to a
20-year-old man, whose father had given a loan to my parents and they were
unable to return the amount or the quantity of opium,” Saliha said.
says she is fortunate to be the first wife and only wife for her husband, who is
only seven years older and not double her age, which is common in this part of
Qais Bawari, acting head of the Afghan Independent Human
Rights Commission (AIHRC) for the southern region, based in Kandahar, said they
received 69 cases of self-immolation and murders from Helmand and Kandahar
provinces in 2006 alone. He said several were related to marriages in exchange
for drugs. “Unfortunately many of the cases of violence against women go
unreported and a very small proportion is reported to us,” Bawari said.
He said people were reluctant to report cases regarding domestic
violence against women for fear of reprisals.
Afghanistan produces more
than 90 percent of the opium available in the world today. Human rights
activists say local drug dealers pay in advance to farmers for their poppy yield
but they often end up giving their daughters to the drug traffickers when they
fail to harvest the expected yield.
Stronger efforts are needed to
battle these awful and discriminatory practices in our
The sale of opium is banned in Afghanistan –
but since the fall of the Taliban in 2001, the crop has re-emerged as a
profitable trade. Despite government efforts and international pressure, poppy
farmers are reluctant to give up their crop in return for a less lucrative
alternative in a country where poverty is rife.
Afghanistan and its
female population are at the bottom of the global poverty scale. The country is
the fourth lowest in the world for living standards and third lowest in gender
disparities, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) stated
in August 2006.
Ahmad Shah Mirdad, legal analyst with AIHRC in Kabul,
criticised central government for doing little to stem the growing problems
faced by women in the country.
“Stronger efforts are needed to battle
these awful and discriminatory practices in our communities,” Mirdad said.
Some say the status of women has not changed much since the ousting of
the Taliban, which enforced strict rules on the movement of women and curtailed
their rights. Head of the women’s affairs department in Helmand, Fawzia Ulomi,
said more than 20 women and girls had committed suicide over the past 10 months
– most of them had been handed over to dealers instead of drugs, or to settle
Cases of violence are generally kept secret in rural
areas but if the victim or family chooses to complain, tribal Jirgas or local
councils are convened to resolve it. Such cases were rarely referred to the
women’s affairs department or other concerned authorities, Ulomi said.
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