Selling Girls for Food: A New Rising Market in Afghanistan
Women in Afghanistan are the most deprived member of the community.In a patriarchal society like Afghanistan, women are not given equal opportunities as given to men. As men have absolute sovereignty and decision-making power in families and communities in Afghanistan, it seems that Afghanistanis the land of men.In such a heavily male dominated society, if you are born as a girl, you may experience the harshest punishment – selling you for the survival of the rest of family – simply because you are a girl.
As the economic challenges mount in Afghanistan, the problems thatAfghan girls and women encounterare also the on the rise. These problems range from forced marriage, child marriage and selling child girls for food and money – a new rising market in Afghanistan. According to the reports, recently a family in Kabul has sold one of their children, a daughter at 25,000 AFN. The family says that poverty has pushed them to sell their child. However, the problem of selling children in Afghanistan is not limited to just selling them. The reports from Afghanistan project that at the Malalai Maternity Hospital in Kabul, everyday around 60 children are born. Of these newborn babies, one or two of them are being abandoned by their families due to not being able to feed them.
Moreover, there have been frequent reports that in some northern provinces of Afghanistan, 2 to 3 girls are being sold on a daily basis. One of the most severe cases was in Takhar province, which was reported to have been attended by dozens of people to buy a 9-year-old girl. Similarly, in Herat, another province located in the west of Afghanistan, there are many displaced families who are living in Shadiya area of Herat province. These displaced families are suffering severely from poverty. For their survival, they are selling their daughters. For example, Firooza a migratory girl who lived with her father, mother and two brothers in the Shadiya area of Herat provincewas sold because of her father’s treatment fees. For her sale auction, Firooza’sfamily had set a rate of 150,000 AFN.
The UN Children’s Fund says that the children who are sold in Afghanistan are from one month to 16 years old. According to the UN Children’s Fund, over the past four months of the current year, 161 displaced children have been put on auction for selling, have been wedded, or have been sold in Herat and Badghis.The families argue that they are selling their daughters because of being debtors and poverty.
Poverty and struggling for food among the poor families in Afghanistan is intensifying another important dilemma in the society – early childhood marriage. Although this problem is common to both boys and girls, it is more acute regarding girls’ child marriage. Traditional Afghan families believe that it is better for the girl to get married sooner rather than later. They think that the more girls marry in their early ages, the more they will be secure. It is believed that when girlsare getting married, they become safe. The reports from the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission demonstrate that such marriages have devastating consequences and often lead to divorces and varioustypes of family violence.
In 1994, Afghanistan joined the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. It is a human rights treaty which sets out the civil, political, economic, social, health and cultural rights of children. Subsequently, the Afghan government in 2017 drafted a law to protect the rights of children in Afghanistan. In this law, the basic rights of the child, the rehabilitation of children with disabilities, social care, education, cultural development, child labor care, child support against economic exploitation, child abuse, child trafficking, prostitution, and sexual exploitation have been discussed. The Child Protection Law is organized in 16 chapters and 108 articles, in which the responsibilities of the parents and the government against the children are also identified.
In 2017, when the Ministry of Justice sent the Child Protection Law to parliament, it was rejected. For the second time, third time and even fourth time, it was rejected and has notbeen passed yet by the parliament. Most members of the House of Representatives don’t have a unanimous consensus on the age of the child. Some representatives consider the age of the child to be under the age of 18, while some other representatives say that if a child has signs of puberty but under the age of 18, she/he is not considered to be a child. Hence, this controversy over the age of child led to the disapproval of the Child Protection Law in Afghanistan.
Recommendations for Policy Implications
To fight against selling children in Afghanistan, first, the Afghan government should eliminate the rampant negative attitudes of families towards a girl child, since they are mainly being sold rather than a boy child. The government of Afghanistan and other national and international related organizations should launch public awareness campaigns in this regard. Media, audio and video presses and other social informant channels can help the governments and related organizations in this respect.
Second, as currently there is no any law to prohibit the sale of children in Afghanistan, the government just has relied on condemning this action and says that selling children is a crime but did not act practically against it yet. Thus, the government of Afghanistan should convince the parliament toapprove the Child Protection Law because the approval of this law can enable and authorize the responsible entities to act promptly against the child sale.
Third, when it comes to the challenge of selling children by parents for food and money, legislation alone cannot solve this social tragedy. Therefore,the Afghan government should look intoother ways for creating employment for the citizenry so that families can have access to their basic rights – the availability of food on their table that they should not be obliged to sell their children. As a recent survey by the Central Statistical Bureau of Afghanistan, conducted in 2016 and 2017 indicates that more than 54 percent of Afghans are under the poverty line. In thissurvey,the living conditions in Afghanistan, the level of poverty, the food security of citizens, employment rates and migrations from villages to cities have been analyzed.
Studies project that to address the poverty reduction, successful countries have swiftly achieved economic and social advancements by setting the principles and good practices for implementing their corporate policies within the framework of a comprehensive development strategy as following: First, these countries simultaneously consider social and economic rights, not merely the economic growth, but rather the social development or the improvement of the quality of life of the people. Second, these countries have paid more attention to the poorest citizens in order to ensure fairness. They have tried to provide the basic social services,particularly to the poorest and impoverished communities so that they could have tackled the economic inequality in the society.
Last but not least, creating suitable opportunities for female participation in the job market so that they can work shoulder by shoulder with men to uplift the financial burdens of the families. Currently, in Afghanistan, men are the main breadwinners of families, and women are mostly housewives. Either they are not allowed by their husbands to work outside or there is not any opportunity for them in the job market.Moreover, women’s participation in the job market does not only help families financially but also it will help the males of the families not to treat girls as a native and incapable person, and inferior in the society. When they are given the opportunities, they can play role in social, political, economic and other spheres of the society as successfully as men. All the above factors will ultimately institutionalize this notion among the people that selling girls for food and money cannot solve the problems, on the contrary, it can destroy of the fabric of the families, and paralyze the human capital of the society in the long run.
Political Crisis, Power Distribution and Taliban in Pakistan
The political crisis in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan tends to evolve. Elite groups in the government and the opposition will be unable to find proper means to resolve the issue. The economic crisis and financial problems will also prevent Islamabad from stabilizing the political situation in the country. In addition, interethnic contradictions between Punjabis and Pashtuns are actively developing in the country, which tends to escalate. The Taliban’s power in neighboring Afghanistan does not contribute to solving the political crisis in Pakistan but contributes to its deterioration. This was stated in a note to Modern Diplomacy by political scientist Georgi Asatryan.
The political scientist also noted that the Pakistan army would give former prime-minister Imran Khan no chance to regain his political standing. “The opposition and political circles close to Khan will attempt to perform protest activity in the country. There will be continued nationwide unrest. The traditional control of the Pakistani military and the ISI over political processes will be raised, and human rights, democratic processes, and freedoms will, unfortunately, be limited. Overall, Pakistan will remain a center of instability in the region”, Georgi Asatryan noted. The political scientist added that the Pashtuns in Pakistan, representing the second largest ethnic group, see Imran Khan as their man and will support him. The same goes for the Taliban in Afghanistan, whose sympathies are also on the side of the Pakistani opposition leader.
Georgi Asatryan does not rule out the possibility of a new military coup but estimates its possibility in the short-term as unlikely. When a country’s institutions become ineffective, anyone can suspect a situation developing a coup d’etat. This was apparent during the spring protests led by Imran Khan, where Khan’s supporters fought with paramilitary police.
It is also worth citing that the country’s economic situation is complicated and can be described as a full-fledged economic and financial crisis. According to the data, Pakistan has a debt of $ 125 billion, and 25% of this amount is owed to China. The rapid growth of inflation – 36.4% in April, demonstrates the difficult economic circumstances of Pakistan. This indicator is noted as the highest in the last sixty years. Concerning the country’s foreign reserves, Pakistan has only 4.3 billion dollars, which is enough to cover imports for a month. In order to temporarily mitigate the financial situation of the state, Saudi Arabia extended the term of the deposit in foreign currency for $ 3 billion deposited as a loan in 2021. Also, China extended a $2 billion loan to Pakistan at the end of March. Islamabad’s external debt has been plunged by more than $10 billion. This reduced the current account deficit from July 2022 to April 2023 to $3.3 billion, significantly lower than $ 13.6 billion for the same period 2021-2022. This indicator decrease is due to a reduction in imports to $ 47 billion from July 2022 to April 2023 compared to the previous period – $ 65.5 billion.
The Problem of “jihad” and the Power in the Taliban
The situation within and around Afghanistan continues to evolve actively. Unfortunately, political and social processes have negative dynamics, which can lead to degradation and decline of the situation, both within the country and along its borders. Thus, in May, the UN UNAMA mission called on the Taliban movement controlling the country to stop flogging and public executions immediately. The UN papers note that convicted persons for theft, homosexuality, alcohol consumption, fraud, and drug trade were publicly flogged. It is worth noting that such critical statements by international organizations against the Taliban have become much more frequent in recent months. “After seizing power in Afghanistan, the Taliban regularly carry out public executions, floggings, and stoning. In the last six months alone, 274 men, 58 women and two boys have been publicly flogged in Afghanistan. Most of the punishments were related to convictions for infidelity and running away from home,” the UNAMA report says.
During the first Taliban rule in Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, public corporal punishment and executions were regularly carried out against convicts at large squares, such as sports stadiums, and at busy city intersections, the authors of the document recall. According to them, the first public flogging after the Taliban returned to power was recorded in October 2021 in the northern province of Kapisa. A woman and a man convicted of adultery received 100 blows each in the presence of religious leaders and representatives of local authorities. In December 2022, the Taliban executed an Afghan convicted of murder, the first public execution since they came to power again. The execution, carried out with a rifle gun by the victim’s father, took place in the western province of Farah in the presence of hundreds of spectators and senior officials of the movement. The Taliban began using corporal punishment and public executions despite initial promises of a more moderate rule than during their previous term, UNAMA states.
Gradually, they tightened restrictions concerning women, prohibiting them from visiting public places such as parks and gyms, under their interpretation of Islamic laws, the document states. These restrictions caused an international resonance, increased the country’s isolation during the economic crisis, and aggravated the humanitarian crisis. In April, the Taliban informed the UN that Afghan women working on its mission would no longer work there. Humanitarian organizations operating in Afghanistan have stated that these measures will negatively affect the provision of urgent assistance throughout the country. In turn, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called the ban on women’s work an unacceptable violation of human rights.
In addition to the constant growth of political violence based on the radical ideology of the Taliban and their specific ultraconservative interpretation of Sharia, there is an inevitable diffusion of power within the movement. The specific of the Taliban movement is that this structure was initially totalitarian. The power of the spiritual leader of the Taliban has always been untouchable, and there was no serious opposition capable of challenging the leader significantly. The theory of political science has a consensus opinion regarding such totalitarian ethno-religious organizations. Unity of command and the indisputable sending of a leader is an integral characteristic of the functionality of such structures. Since the founder of the Taliban, Mullah Omar, had absolute power, his orders were considered binding, and these were the will of Allah. A separate but crucial topic is the publication of doctrinal documents of the Taliban, which were distributed as a guide to the management of tactical units of the organization.
However, the movement’s evolution led to a new Taliban. In the world media, the term Taliban 2.0 has been used more and more often. This term has logic and, to a certain extent, correctly shows the deep transformations that have taken place within the movement. The modern Taliban has become much more intelligent, flexible, and diversified. In fact, in the last years of the war in Afghanistan, the United States and NATO had to confront a network organization led by dozens and hundreds of field commanders who only coordinated their operations but no more. The Central command gave only general orders and impacted the promotion of certain provincial leaders and “night” governors. The Taliban gradually became like the Haqqani Network.
However, a subversive and terrorist war against US and NATO forces is one issue, and the management of the state, bureaucracy, and government system is an entirely different one. In totalitarian political systems, network management is impossible. Opposition to the central government leads to its erosion and subsequently to the aggravation of the political power crisis. Political science knows no examples of network management in totalitarian or authoritarian political societies. Therefore, there is a dilemma of academic and theoretical nature. How will the political system of Afghanistan develop? Or, how will the distribution of power take place inside the Taliban? The question was raised at the time by the classic of political science Talcott Parsons concerning developed democratic societies.
Since we have already written in detail about latent conflicts within the Taliban leadership, we will not return to this topic. In short, the Taliban is split into two elite groups. One led by the leader Mawlawi Hibatullah Akhundzada. The Defense Minister and the son of the founder of the Taliban, Mullah Yaqoob, and the Interior Minister Sirajuddin Haqqani, the son of the founder of the Haqqani Network, head the second one. This general and schematic picture has yet to be studied and investigated in detail. For obvious reasons, it is impossible to conduct such studies within the framework of the social sciences methodology now.
Following the above, the problem of the distribution of power and the dilemma of power arises in the language of political theory. It is also worth noting that tension between the Taliban and their main sponsors and mentors, the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, escalates occasionally. This factor further complicates the situation. Given the political and economic crisis in Pakistan, which has become a lure, this country cannot maintain order among its radical clients by the system.
There is a danger of the illusion of a lasting systemic order in Afghanistan. Moreover, among the top leadership, the temptation is to solve their personal problems of competition for power by exporting energy outside Afghanistan.
So, recently, the Taliban leader said that establishing Sharia in Afghanistan is only the first stage of a successful Taliban jihad. According to him, in the future, the Taliban and the Afghan ulema must lead the whole world to Sharia leadership. Thus, the leader of the Taliban made it clear that the jihad would not be limited only to the territory of Afghanistan. “The success of the Afghan jihad means not only pride and glory for Afghans but also glory for all Muslims. It is the desire of Muslims all over the world,” Maulavi Haibatullah Akhundzada said in his speech to religious scholars from Kabul. “Therefore, your responsibility is not only to establish Sharia in Afghanistan but also that the scientists of Afghanistan are obliged to lead the whole world to the regime of Sharia.”
In his speech, Mawlawi Akhundzada also made it clear that the international community’s expectations of an “inclusive government” in Afghanistan are in vain. Representatives of the United Nations, the United States, Russia, India, China, Iran, European countries, and Central Asian republics have been trying to convince the Taliban regime of this for more than a year and a half from different sides. Mawlawi Akhundzada made it clear that all these hopes were in vain. Thus, the stability issue in Afghanistan remains relevant, and it is unlikely that the international community should forget about the political dynamics in this country.
Anti-Indian Sentiments in Nepal
The 2023 International Freedom Report on Nepal has sparked controversy due to allegations that right-wing religious groups associated with the ruling party of India are providing money to influential politicians.
Nepalese politicians have a notorious history marred by scandals. In 2013, a voice recording of a prominent politician Krishna Bahadur Mahara surfaced in an effort to buy 50 MPs with the help of a Chinese friend. Furthermore, the recent fake Bhutanese refugee crisis has led to the arrest of high-profile politicians from the country’s largest and second largest parties of Nepal reflecting the pervasive corruption and scandalous nature of Nepalese politics.
The right-wing religious groups associated with BJP would support any person who agrees with their political philosophy and may even believe that such states which share their political ideology would be more aligned with India.
International Religious Freedom Report clearly states funding is given to “influential politicians of all parties”, the Hindu nationalist party of Nepal- Rastriya Prajatantra Party issued an open letter to US Embassy stating it as a baseless allegation against the RPP. In reality, RPP is the fifth largest party but isn’t influential enough to stir Nepali politics.
The RPP letter focused that they disliked external interference and may it be as stated in the report on the “continued to pressure politicians in Nepal, particularly the RPP, to support revision to a Hindu state” even though revision to a Hindu state is the primary agenda of why their voters vote RPP.
Nepalese politicians have a long history of distancing themselves from India. In 2020, the Nepalese parliament unanimously voted to unveil the new map of Nepal which included territories that are under Indian jurisdiction. Meanwhile, a single Parliamentarian Sarita Giri was expelled from the Nepalese Parliament by her party after she refused to support the proposed amendment by a party accused of being pro-Indian.
There is a noticeable xenophobia within the Nepalese community towards India. However, this distaste is never realized by the Indian masses who encounter a community who are comparatively able to speak Hindi without any formal training and share religious sentiments.
The question arises: how can Nepal share language, culture, and religion while maintaining hostility towards India? These issues have much deeper historic roots that can be linked back to the beginning of Nepali written history.
The national flag and national emblem of India are both associated with Ashoka, reflecting the Indian perception of the country that links with its ancient history. Similarly, Nepal’s first inscription was also installed by Ashoka in the bordering towns of the Rupandehi and Kapilvastu districts. The most famous inscription dated 249 BCE, is in Lumbini, marking the birthplace of Gautam Buddha.
The Indians utilize the cultural perception that links Buddha’s origin to India, while the Nepalese emphasize the contemporary geopolitical borders that define the birthplace to be within Nepal.
The primary residents in the bordering regions of Nepal share the same ethnic group as found in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, contributing to a considerable size of the minority in Nepal. Bordering communities between Nepal and India such as Maithili, Bhojpuri, and Awadhi communities, individually surpass the total population of Nepal.
Hilly people in Nepal are deeply concerned about safeguarding their sovereign territory and preserving their unique social and cultural identity. It is noteworthy that Indo-Aryan literature, such as Shrimad Bhagavatam has remarked ethnic groups found in hills such as Kirat and Khas are linked with the sinful act and by taking refuge in the Aryan god can purify themselves.
However, starting from the rise of the Licchavi era around 450 CE, Nepal gradually assimilated religious and cultural influence from India, as the Lichhavi dynasty itself originated from India. The indigenous knowledge of Nepal merged with the high culture derived from the Sanskrit language, to an extent that many Nepalese accept the Indo-Aryan literature to genuinely belong to Nepal.
Some Nepalese believe that the compiler of Vedas, the most important and earliest Indo-Aryan literature, was born in Tanahun, Nepal. On the other hand, Indians believe he was born on an island in the Yamuna River in India.
In 2020, the then Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli claimed that the real Ayodhya is located in Thori, west of Birgunj. This statement outraged many Indian politicians and the media. The fact that KP Sharma Oli’s party even after suffering many corruption scandals received the highest percentage of popular votes reflects the thought process of the Nepali masses.
The effort to build the Nepalese identity can be traced back to pre-modern times. Renowned scholar KP Malla noted that the assumed portion of Skanda Puran, an important Indo-Aryan religious literature, Nepala Mahatmya was a ‘pious fraud’ from the late Malla era rather than being a 9th-century text.
Religion is considered a binding force between Nepal and India but rather contributes to suspicion and accusation as faith doesn’t depend on academic research and reasoning but is a cocktail based on the teachings of community leaders and fierce sense of nationalism.
There is a strong possibility that the BJP supporters believe in promoting religious sentiments in Nepal would decrease the distance between Nepal and India. However, they may fail to comprehend how Nepalese religious groups perceive India as a potential threat.
Some Nepalese do not view India as synonymous with the ancient Bharat, as mentioned in Vishnu Puran. Instead, they conveniently consider it as a country formed due to British expansionism. Furthermore, over two centuries ago, the first ruler of the Shah dynasty in Nepal referred to Nepal as the true Hindusthan, Hindustan is another term used for India. Some groups of people even in India believe that due to invaders they have lost their glorious heritage due to invaders while Nepalese nationalism is deeply rooted in the notion of bravery and the ability to protect sovereignty and identity during various invasions.
Academics often associate Anti-Indian Sentiments with three factors- trade blockages, Nepalese border encroachment issues, and unequal diplomatic agreements. However, these issues overlook the cultural complexities between Nepal and India.
Indian tourists visiting Nepal may happily express that they feel as if they are in India, which can make Nepalese people threatened by the possibility of Nepal becoming the next Sikkim. Nepalese due to its nationalist sentiments want to be perceived as a distinct group of people.
The Indo-Nepal relationship is complex and has multiple layers that contribute to its complexity. The claims of BJP funding prominent politicians in Nepal to support the idea of a Hindu state may not result in improving the relationship between Nepal and India, instead, may further damage it.
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