Parwana rescue: 9-year-old trafficked for child marriage in Afghanistan brought to safety

Carrying only a blanket to keep warm, Parwana Malik, 9, balances on her mother’s lap next to her siblings, as the family is rescued by a group that helps girls from child marriage .

“I’m really happy,” Parwana said during the journey. “The charity removes me from my husband and my husband is old.”

At the time, Parwana’s father, Abdul Malik, said she cried day and night, begging him not to sell her and saying she wanted to go to school and study.

Following international outcry over the CNN story, Parwana was returned to the family due to backlash from the community towards the buyer.

Non-profit organization based in the United States Too young for Wednesday (TYTW) also joined in to relocate the girls, their siblings and their mother to a safe house.

“This is a temporary solution,” said Stephanie Sinclair, founder of TYTW. “(But) really what we’re trying to do is prevent girls from being trafficked into marriage.”

Afghanistan under pressure

Afghanistan’s economic routes have been cut off since mid-August when the Taliban took control after the departure of American and allied forces. Billions of dollars in central bank assets have been frozen, banks are running out of cash, and wages have not been paid for months.
Now, aid agencies and human rights groups including Human Rights Watch are warning that the country’s poorest facing a famine when the brutal cold of winter takes place.
More than half of the country’s approximately 39 million inhabitants will face urgency of acute famine in March, according to a recent report by the IPC, the agency that assesses food insecurity. The report estimates that more than 3 million children under the age of 5 are suffering from acute malnutrition.

“The international community is turning away as the country stands on the brink of man-made disaster,” said Dominik Stillhart, operations director of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), who recently returned from a six-day visit. said. to Afghanistan.

Even before the Taliban took over, famine raged in the impoverished country, and now young girls are paying the price with their bodies – and their lives.

Leading Afghan women’s rights activist Mahbouba Seraj told CNN: “Young Afghan girls are becoming the price of food.” “Because otherwise their families would starve.”

“Usually there’s a lot of suffering, there’s a lot of abuse, there’s a lot of abuse associated with these things.”Mahbouba SerajWomen’s rights activist

Although marriage under the age of 15 is illegal nationwide, it has been common practice for many years, especially in the more rural areas of Afghanistan. And the situation has worsened since August, when families became more desperate.

“There is usually a lot of suffering, there is a lot of abuse, there is a lot of abuse associated with these things,” says Seraj, adding that some girls are forced into dead marriages. giving birth because their bodies are too small to bear it. “Some of them can’t get it. Most of them die quite young.”

Women have long been seen as second-class citizens in Afghanistan, which ranks as the worst country in the world for women in the Women, Peace and Security Index 2021.

And since the Taliban came to power, many of the basic rights that women have fought for over the past two decades have been stripped away.

Restrictions have been placed on girls’ education, women are banned from some workplaces and actresses are no longer allowed to appear in television series.

Escape from slavery

After a four-hour journey through mountain roads, the Parwana family arrived late at night at a small hotel in Herat, Afghanistan’s third largest city. They were escorted on the journey by a local representative of Too Young to Wed, along with her mother, Reza Gul, and her brother, Payinda.

Reza Gul and Payinda told CNN that Parwana’s father had started selling her against their wishes. “Of course, I was angry, I fought with him, and I cried,” said Reza Gul. “He said he didn’t have any options.”

CNN obtained permission to film the October 24 sale of Parwana to a 55-year-old man with white hair for cash, sheep and land worth about $2,200 (200,000 Afghans).

“My father sold me because we didn’t have bread, rice and flour,” Parwana told CNN at the time. “He sold me to an old man.”

The buyer, Qorban, told CNN this would be his “second marriage” and he insisted that Parwana would be treated properly.

Parwana’s mother said her daughter begged to return home to her family and be allowed to return to their camp a few times.

“She said they hit her, and she didn’t want to stay there,” said Reza Gul.

“They mistreat me. They’re cursing me. They wake me up early and make me work.”Parwana MalikFormer daughter-in-law

“They treated me badly, they cursed at me, they woke me up early and made me work,” Parwana added.

After CNN’s story about Parwana’s plight was published, public outrage received by the Qorban buyer pushed him into hiding, according to the family. CNN has since been unable to reach him or his family for comment.

In a follow-up CNN interview, Parwana’s father said he was also criticized and felt pressured to change the story of his marriage in interviews with several local media outlets. . He confirmed his original interview with CNN and apologized.

About two weeks after the sale, Parwana was returned to the family, but her father still owes the buyer the equivalent of $2,200. He used the proceeds to pay off other debts.

‘They gave me a new life’

Parwana and her five siblings were initially tired of the long drive and overwhelmed with the bright lights and traffic of the city. But once settled, they soon began rolling around and giggling together in bed, enjoying their new adventure.

After two nights at the hotel, the family was moved by Too Young along with Wed’s team to a nearby safe house – Parwana’s first experience living in a real home. For the past four years, the family has lived in a tent in the internally displaced persons (IDP) camp in Qala-e-Naw in Badghis province.

“I feel very happy to be in this house,” Parwana told CNN. “They gave me a new life.”

“I feel happy and safe here,” says Reza Gul. “My kids are eating well since we arrived, they’re playing and we’re happy.”

The family stays indoors during the winter months and is supported and protected by the TYTW, which regularly conducts this type of rescue.

The long-term plan for the Parwana family remains unclear, TYTW’s Stephanie Sinclair adds, and will depend on funding for the home.

“It is a moral imperative that the international community not abandon Afghan women and girls,” Sinclair said. “Every life matters, and the lives we can save (would be) better for the experience of both their families and their communities.”

In addition, TYTW is also trying to transfer food aid to the Qala-e-Naw camp, which houses about 150 people. This is also intended to help Parwana’s father while he stays there to try to cover his debt. He allowed TYTW to build a house for his wife and children.

“We are very happy that Parwana is saved,” the father said before his family left. “We are happy that (TYTW) will help us and they will provide a place to live.”

‘The tip of the iceberg, the tip of the matter’

Families across Afghanistan are facing a similar desperate financial situation.

The CNN report also describes two families from Ghor province in northwestern Afghanistan who are preparing to sell their young daughter.

Magul, 10, was just days away from being sold into marriage when CNN’s report was released. She threatened to kill herself if the sale went through.

Sales of the girls are currently on hold and TYTW is working to rescue them along with their mother and siblings – and move them to the same shelter where the Parwana family now live.

Women’s rights activists like Mahbouba Seraj, who runs a shelter for women and girls in Kabul, say the worst is yet to come for Afghan women.

“This is just the beginning of it, this is really the tip of the iceberg,” says Seraj. “It will continue to happen, with hunger, with winter, with poverty, with all this ignorance.”

A local Taliban leader told CNN they are trying to end illegal child marriage.

Mawlawi Baz Mohammad Sarwary, head of information and culture agency Badghis, described the practice as “common” in the region due to extreme poverty.

Women's rights activist Mahbouba Seraj says the worst is yet to come for Afghan women.

“Marriage is not a good thing and we condemn it,” said Sarwary. “Some are forced because they are poor.”

He also called on international groups and governments to send aid to save families from starvation.

“We want them to help the Badghis,” says Sarwary. “We’re going to give them security; what we have, we’re going to coordinate with them, and they’re all allowed to work.”

Stillhart from the ICRC says governments urgently need to free up funding for Afghanistan, to prevent hospitals and basic services from collapsing.

“I implore the international community to find solutions that will allow these essential services to be maintained,” Stillhart told CNN. “That really requires (to inject) liquidity and cash because () the entire economy in Afghanistan has shrunk by a staggering 40% since the end of August, due to the suspension of bilateral aid. “

Non-profit organizations still active in Afghanistan are also calling for more coordinated action to help the country’s poorest people.

At the local market in Herat, TYTW helped the Parwana family collect kitchen supplies and food.

Parwana’s mother, Reza Gul, said: ‘We stayed up all night because we were hungry. “We are now very happy that this charity helped us and brought us to Herat.”

Parwana, now out of life with a husband six times her age, is excited about the prospect of going to school.

“I want to study to be a doctor,” Parwana said. “I want to learn to serve my people.”

For women’s rights fighters in Afghan society, Parwana’s determination to achieve a better future for herself and her country offers a glimmer of hope that the next generation of girls be able to overcome the lack of value in their lives.

CNN’s Jessie Yeung and Jadyn Sham contributed reporting.


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