Last week, a 10-year-old Afghan girl experienced the end of her childhood. Fatima, whose name has been changed to protect her identity, was not wearing a head covering when she left her home to purchase bread for her family, according to an associate of the U.S. nonprofit organization Flanders Fields, which is providing for Afghan allies abandoned by the State Department. For her immodesty, local Taliban beat Fatima so severely that she lost control of her bladder.
According to a former Afghan government employee who spoke on condition of anonymity, prior to the Taliban takeover, Afghan girls began covering their heads around the age of 15, on achieving womanhood. Fatima’s story illustrates how the devastating humanitarian and economic crises created by the U.S. withdrawal and the draconian reign of misogynistic Taliban tyrants have robbed Afghan girls of their childhood, turning them into sexual objects and bartering tools.
Just three and a half months after the U.S. withdrew from Afghanistan, about 3.2 million Afghan children “are facing severe malnutrition,” according to the World Food Program. The United Nations estimates 1 million Afghan children will die from starvation without aid.
In order to afford feeding remaining family members or to pay off debts, parents are selling daughters as young as 6 years old into marriage. Some are selling the dowries for infant girls as young as 20 days old. The younger the daughter, the higher the price her dowry commands, usually between $500 and $2,000.
As women’s rights advocate Wazhma Frogh told the South China Morning Post, child marriage amounts to “child rape.” It also speaks to the value of women in Afghan society. Explaining why she commodified her 12-year-old daughter’s marital future, one mother told the Times of Israel, “My heart is broken, but I have to save my sons.”
The end of Afghan girlhood is also tied to the Taliban. Under the former Afghan government, the legal marriage age was 16. Under the Taliban’s interpretation of Islamic law, no minimum marriage age exists. As their forces gained ground in August, Taliban commanders reportedly demanded lists of all unmarried girls and women between 12 and 45 years of age in conquered towns. As “spoils of war,” many of these women were married off to Taliban fighters.
The Taliban are also buying Afghan girls. In Ghor province, the Taliban reportedly paid between about $1,000 and $2,700 for girls as young as 1 year old or traded them for “cash, livestock, or weapons.” British newspaper the Sun explained these girls will be “nothing more than sex slaves” when they become Taliban wives.
Some Afghan girls and women are experiencing severe depression as their future prospects dwindle. Only in few Afghan cities have girls been allowed to resume their middle and high school studies. Afghan women can only attend college in secret. Employment for women is highly restricted, which removes up to about 22% of the prior Afghan workforce from economic participation.
In some sectors, the Taliban’s hatred of women will be deadly. For the last 20 years, aid groups have educated thousands of Afghan midwives to lower the country’s maternal mortality rate, once among the highest in the world, from 1,450 per 100,000 live births in 2000 to 638 per 100,000 live births in 2017. In southeastern Afghanistan, a Taliban commander recently entered a midwifery clinic and informed the midwives they had “no right to go out or work at all.” Displaying deadly ignorance, he told the women their work was unnecessary because “only God can save mothers’ lives.”
Afghan women, who experience an average of 4.321 births per woman as of 2019 (down from 7.485 births per woman in 2000), will be at increased risk for death with every pregnancy if the Taliban curtail the practice of midwifery. This will be particularly harmful for adolescent mothers, who face significant health, mental, and social risks during pregnancy, according to the World Health Organization.
Under Taliban rule, decades of progress for Afghan women are being swiftly negated. The hardest hit are Afghan girls, who are not only losing their childhoods and innocence but their future dreams as well. Without immediate intercession from Western leadership, they also stand to lose their lives.
Beth Bailey (@BWBailey85) is a freelance writer from the Detroit area.