All 24 female senators from both parties came together on Thursday to ramp up pressure on President Biden to develop a plan for the dire situation that now faces Afghan women and girls.
‘Women and girls are now suffering the predations of a Taliban regime with a track record of brutalizing, isolating, and denying them life and liberty. Taliban leaders who promised that women would be treated well under the new government are not upholding those commitments,’ the letter reads.
The senators note that women are now the victims of targeted beatings and are banned from leaving home without a male chaperone.
Where some 3.5 million girls were in school in Afghanistan last year thanks to the American-backed government led by Ashraf Ghani, the Taliban has indefinitely suspended secondary school for girls.
The letter, led by Sens. Shelley Capito and Dianne Feinstein, says that ‘American disengagement from Afghanistan puts at risk hard-won gains for Afghan women and girls’
The US hastily pulled out of Afghanistan as it fell to Taliban rule for the first time in 20 years
Taliban fighters stand guard in Kabul in October
Female primary school students leave school after a class in Kabul, Afghanistan, October 25, 2021. The Taliban has allowed all boys and younger girls back to class, but has not let girls attend secondary school
The Islamist group leading Afghanistan has said that girls will not be allowed to return to class at Kabul University ‘until an Islamic environment is created.’
Last month, Afghanistan’s Ministry of Interior Affairs said girls would be allowed to return to school soon, but did not give a timeline. A limited number of schools have already reopened their doors to girls in the north, where women have long played a more prominent role in society.
Many women have returned to head-to-toe hijab in fear of being beaten or killed otherwise. They are banned from participating in sports.
While the Taliban has sought to present a more moderate ruling style, its actions thus far cast doubt that it will be any better than the last brutal Taliban regime that ruled from 1996-2991.
Biden faced bipartisan backlash for the US frenzied withdrawal from Afghanistan on Aug. 31, and the president promised to ‘speak out’ for the rights of women and girls.
The White House said last month that in a meeting of G-20 leaders, Biden discussed providing ‘humanitarian assistance directly to the Afghan people through independent international organizations, and to promote fundamental human rights for all Afghans, including women, girls, and members of minority groups.’
As the Afghan economy, weak before the fall to the Taliban, falls into disarray with international aid on hold, many families have resorted to selling their young daughters off as brides for cash to feed the rest of their families.
One Afghan father sold off his nine-year-old daughter to a man who claims to be 55 so he can buy food has pleaded for his child’s new husband not to beat her.
Parwana Malik, nine, is being sold by her parents to a stranger who the youngster describes as an ‘old man’ due to his white beard and eyebrows.
On the day Parwana was taken away by her 55-year-old buyer, Qorban, her weeping father, Abdul Malik, pleaded for him to not hurt his child, reports CNN.
Abdul, who is ‘broken’ with guilt, broke down in tears as he told Qorban: ‘This is your bride. Please take care of her. You are responsible now, please don’t beat her.’
Parwana’s family said they had no choice, and are among scores of destitute families who being forced to sell their young daughters into marriage to survive, as Afghanistan plunges further into a humanitarian crisis.
Parwana Malik, nine, (pictured) is being sold by her parents to a stranger who the youngster describes an ‘old man’ due to his white beard and eyebrows
One girl, aged 10, spends her days crying as she waits for the day she is sold to a 70-year-old man to help her family pay off their debts.
Another nine-member family is preparing to sell their four-year-old and nine-year-old daughters to have enough money for food.
Parwana and her family have been living in an Afghan displacement camp in northwestern Badghis province for the past four years. They have survived on humanitarian aid and work which earns them around £2 a day.
Abdul was forced to sell Parwana’s 12-year-old sister months ago to help his family survive.
Parwana, her small face peeping out from her pale pink hijab, told CNN: ‘My father has sold me because we don’t have bread, rice or flour. He has sold me to an old man.’
Her father Abdul said he is ‘broken’ with guilt at the sale of his daughter and is unable to sleep at night.
He told the news outlet he had searched for unsuccessfully for work and borrowed money from relatives – with his wife even begging other camp residents for food – but nothing worked.
Abdul, who felt he had no choice but to sell Parwana to help his family survive, said: ‘We are eight family members. I have to sell to keep other family members alive.’
He said that while Parwana is being sold for 200,000 Afghanis (£1,600) in the form of cash, sheep and land, it will only sustain his family for a few months before they must find another way to raise funds to survive.
Parwana hoped she would be able to change her parents’ minds as she didn’t want to leave her family or her education as she wanted to be a teacher when she grew up.
But, her buyer Qorban, who only has one name, arrived at the family’s home with the payment last week.
Parwana, her small frame covered in a black head covering and a floral garland around her neck, hid her face from her family and new husband, who she fears will beat her and force her to work.
A weeping Abdul told Qorban: ‘This is your bride. Please take care of her. You are responsible for her now, please don’t beat her.’
Qorban agreed before grabbing Parwana’s arm and led the small child towards the door, with her father watching on.
As they reached the door, Parwana struggled and dug her feet into the ground – but her efforts were futile as she was led away to a car and to her new home.
Parwana, her small frame covered in a black head covering and a floral garland around her neck, hid her face from her family and new husband, who she fears will beat her and force her to work
Qorban insisted he would look after Parwana as his child and said he had a wife already.
‘[Parwana] was cheap, and her father was very poor and he needs money,’ he told CNN. ‘She will be working in my home. I won’t beat her. I will treat her like a family member. I will be kind.’
But Abdul said he has no power over what happens to his daughter now and recalled: ‘The old man told me, ‘I’m paying for the girl. It’s none of your business what I’m doing with her, that’s my business’.’
He added: ‘As I can see, we don’t have a future – our future is destroyed. I will have to sell another daughter if my financial situation doesn’t improve – probably the two-year-old.’
Another child being forced into marriage is Magul, a 10-year-old girl, who is being sold to a 70-year-old man to help pay off her family’s debts of 200,000 Afghanis (£1,600).
‘I really don’t want him,’ Magul said as she wiped tears away. ‘If they make me go, I will kill myself. I don’t want to leave my parents.’
The buyer, who has not been named by CNN, has taken Magul’s father, Ibrahim, to Taliban-run prison and threatened to send him to jail for not repaying the money.
Ibrahim, who said he would pay the money within a month, has run out of time.
He said: ‘I don’t know what to do. Even if I don’t give him my daughters, he will take them.’
Gul Afroz, Magul’s mother, said: ‘I’m praying to God these bad days pass.’
Another nine-member family in Ghor province are selling their four-year-old and nine-year-old daughters as their disabled father is unable to work.
He told CNN he will sell the girls for 10,000 Afghanis (£800) each.
Zaiton, the four-year-old daughter, said she understands why she must be sold.
‘Because we are a poor family and we don’t have food to eat.’
The girls’ grandmother Rokshana is distraught and said: ‘If we have food and there is someone to help us, we would never do this. We don’t have any choice.’
Since the Taliban took over Afghanistan in August, the country’s economy is on the brink of collapse.
Families in Afghanistan are being forced to sell their children to pay off debts, as the country’s economy teeters on the brink of near-total collapse. Pictured: Women and their children wait for healthcare in Helmand province
That has seen the value of its currency collapse even though hard notes are in short supply, while prices for basic goods have soared due to shortages, with the UN warning that food could run dangerously low soon.
It has led to the chief of the UN this week to warn that Afghanistan is facing a ‘make-or-break moment’ as he urgently appealed to countries to inject cash back into the Afghan economy, which before the Taliban takeover in August was dependent on international aid that accounted for 75% of state spending.
Afghanistan is grappling with a liquidity crisis as assets remain frozen in the U.S. and other countries, and disbursements from international organizations have been put on hold.
The effects of the economic collapse could prove lethal for the country where a third of the population survives on less than $2 per day.
It has meant an increasing number of families are turning to the illegal practice of selling their children under the age of 15.
A girl collects food and recyclable materials through garbage near the airport in Kabul on September 21, 2021
‘Day by day, the numbers are increasing of families selling their children,’ said Mohammad Naiem Nazem, a human rights activist in Badghis told CNN. ‘Lack of food, lack of work, the families feel they have to do this.’
‘It’s absolutely cataclysmic,’ said Heather Barr, associate director of the women’s rights division at Human Rights Watch. ‘We don’t have months or weeks to stem this emergency. We are in the emergency already.’
Many girls in Afghanistan are out of school – and the Taliban have not said when they might be allowed back.
‘As long as a girl is in school, her family is invested in her future,’ said Barr. ‘As soon as a girl falls out of education, then suddenly it becomes much more likely that she’s going to be married off.’
Once a girl is sold as a child bride, she is extremely unlikely to continue her education and many are forced to have unconsensual sex with their buyers.
Local Taliban leaders in Badghis said they are planning to distribute food to families. ‘Once we implement this plan, if they continue to sell their kids we will put them in jail,’ said Mawlawai Jalaludin, a spokesperson from the Taliban’s Justice Department.
But the humanitarian crisis stretches across Afghanistan and affects at least 18 million people, or half the country’s population. Many are now left to collect plastic bottles to recycle or sell to earn enough money for food.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres appealed to countries to inject cash back into the Afghan economy after humanitarian aid has dried up.
There is mounting frustration among experts who argue that holding back international aid is not affecting the Taliban – but the poor.
Isabelle Moussard Carlsen, head of office at UNOCHA, told CNN: ‘By not releasing the (development) funds that they are holding from the Taliban government, it’s the vulnerable, it’s the poor, it’s these young girls who are suffering.