They demand my daughter in exchange for a cow

By Mahsa Elham* 

This narrative is told to a reporter for Zan Times via WhatsApp:  

My name is Hussnia*. About ten months ago, my husband injured his back in a traffic accident in the Du Layna district of Ghor province. The lack of specialist doctors and his own negligence caused his spinal problems to worsen until he was paralyzed. To pay for his treatments, we sold all our belongings and asked for help from relatives and neighbours. One man entrusted us with his cow, but that help was conditional on us marrying our 13-year-old daughter to his brother. My husband reluctantly accepted this condition, sold the cow for 50,000 afghani, and went to Kabul for his back treatment. Soon after, I received the news of his passing. 

My problems have multiplied since my husband’s death. I worry about how I can feed my two daughters and three young sons. With creditors pressuring me on one side and hunger on the other, we moved to the capital city of Firozkoh six months ago. Contrary to my initial hopes, no one came to our aid and we have endured the most challenging days and hungry nights. Our extreme poverty meant I had no choice but to send my 12-year-old son to work as a cowherd in a village.  

Meanwhile, my daughter and I work in people’s homes, washing carpets and clothes. We also used to go to the surrounding villages to thresh wheat and barley or make bricks, tasks for which we had no experience. As a result, our hands became blistered, and we spent nights in pain. We’d also wash carpets and clothes in people’s homes. While we worked, my two younger sons, who are just 7 and 9, would go to nearby areas to scavenge for trash, though they’d sometimes return empty-handed even after venturing 15 to 20 kilometres from our house. Despite all our efforts, our daily income is only 200 to 300 afghani, which cannot cover our expenses. 

Due to strenuous work, my children and I have suffered from various illnesses. My daughter has had a disc problem for two months now, and the doctors have advised her not to work anymore, but we need the money. I have gone to the gates of the Taliban’s governorate many times, cried out, and shown my torn hands, but no one paid attention to our needs. Often, the Taliban soldiers drove me away with violence and contempt. 

We are going through difficult days. Five months ago, I had to sell a pair of mattresses for 200 afghanis to buy shoes for my children. Now, my daughter and I wear torn plastic shoes given to us by people when we cleaned their homes.  

Then, two weeks ago, the owner of the cow we had sold to cover my husband’s medical expenses came to our house and demanded that I fulfill our agreement and allow my daughter to marry his brother,who is middle-aged and has a wife and three children. Despite my objections, my daughter is still at risk of a forced marriage because I cannot afford to pay the 50,000-afghani debt.  

If this marriage takes place, my daughter’s life will be ruined. My greatest fear is losing my young daughter, who is still a child and knows nothing about married life. My daughter does not want to marry the man and every time the matter is mentioned, she cries and protests. As well, my daughter is my only ally in my quest to escape hunger. 

I do not know what the future holds for me and my children, especially my daughter, or what I can do to save her. My wish is for my daughter to escape the danger of forced marriage, for my children to be freed from scavenging and hard labour, for them to be able to study, and to have a bright future. 

*Names have been changed to protect the identity of the interviewee and writer. Mahsa Elham is the pseudonym of a Zan Times journalist in Afghanistan.  

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