Women Bought and Sold in Eastern Afghanistan

Women Bought and Sold in Eastern Afghanistan

Wednesday, 15 August, 2012

Human rights defenders in the Nangarhar province of eastern Afghanistan have raised concerns about a practice where husbands or other male relatives put women up for sale, even when they are already married.

Bebi Zawar comes from the village of Shinwari in the Naziano district, and describes the shame of being sold on by her second husband.

When her husband died, leaving her with three children, she was married off to his brother, as is commonly the custom. But he then sold her on to a man across the border in Pakistan.

Then aged 40, she was sold for 120,000 rupees – the Pakistani currency commonly used in this part of Afghanistan. The sum is equivalent to 1,300 US dollars at the current exchange rate.

“The person who bought me lived in the Siaw area of Pakistan, which is very far away so that I didn’t know the way back,” Bebi Zawar, now aged 60, said. “I spent around 17 years there, but once I grew old I was abandoned. Now I cannot face my relatives for the shame of having been sold.”

Anissa Omrani, who heads the Nangarhar provincial department for women’s affairs, says that in the first three months of the current Afghan year, her office dealt with five similar cases, out of a total of 40 complaints of violence within the family.

“A few days ago, we received a case concerning a young married woman who was out collecting firewood on a hillside when her brothers arrived and told her they had sold her. The woman demanded to be allowed to carry the firewood home so she could breastfeed her child here. Her brothers told her there wasn’t time for that, and they sold her along with the firewood.”

The head of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission’s Nangarhar office, Rafiullah Bidar says such cases are a catastrophe for the children left behind in their father’s family.

As in Bebi Zawar’s case, the “buyer” is often selected because he lives a long way away, so that it will be virtually impossible for the woman to be found, or to get back on her own. The prices negotiated typically range between 50,000 to 300,000 rupees, or 530 to 3,200 dollars.

Malik Usman, an elder in the Shinwari district, denies that such sales ever take place, and says such allegations are made to blacken the name of particular tribes.

“When young women’s husbands are killed in war, we marry them to other men, in order to preserve the family honour,” he said. “We do this by holding a meeting between the families concerned. They aren’t sold like animals at market.”

Wrekhmin Tasal is the pseudonym of an IWPR-trained radio reporter in Jalalabad.

This report was produced as part of the Afghan Critical Mass Media Reporting in Uruzgan and Nangarhar project, and is also published on the Afghan Centre for Investigative Journalism website which IWPR has set up locally.

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