Afghanistan is witnessing a humanitarian crisis of epic proportion that requires immediate action by the international community. Once again, Afghan parents are having to offer up their own children just to make ends meet.

One resident of Kabul told DW he had no alternative but to sell his seven-year-old daughter to settle his family’s debt. “A person came and told me to either pay the debt or ‘I will burn your home to ashes,’” he said. But he was given the opportunity to “give up his daughter,” to pay the debt. “The man was a rich person,” he added. “And I had no other option, and I accepted to offer my child in return for 65,000 Afghanis (nearly €620/$700) of debt.”

Two other parents who lived in a displacement camp in Badghis province in northwestern Afghanistan had to sell their nine-year-old daughter as a child bride to a 55-year-old man because they had no other choices left. “We are eight family members,” her father told CNN. “I have to sell to keep other family members alive.” This phenomenon is no longer surprising to Afghans and there are many girls who are “sold into marriage.”

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) received credible reports of families selling their daughters for future marriage

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) received credible reports of families selling their daughters for future marriage even as young as 20 days old. Although it is illegal to marry children under 15 in Afghanistan, it has occurred many times over the years.

“The practice in Afghanistan of giving away very young children, more often female, by the desperately poor who may not be able to feed them, is of course not entirely new. So too is the giving of early teen-aged girls in marriage to older men,” Marvin Weinbaum, the director of Afghanistan and Pakistan studies at the Middle East Institute in Washington, told Inside Arabia.

“In light of the humanitarian crisis now in Afghanistan, it is all too plausible that children are being ‘sold.’ A hundred years ago in the U.S. something similar was happening. My wife’s grandparents, who were desperately poor, gave their two daughters to be raised in foster homes,” Weinbaum added.

[‘The Forty-Year War in Afghanistan: A Chronicle Foretold’ by Tariq Ali]

Selling children in Afghanistan is just one facet of the disastrous situation the country is facing. In September, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) released a “rapid appraisal” report, in which it noted that 97 percent of the country could drop below the poverty line by mid-2022. Around a million children are also estimated to be at risk of dying by the end of 2021 from malnutrition and disease.

Unsurprisingly, some Afghans feel let down by the international community. The scenario that the country is witnessing would probably not have been reached if the international community had stood by Afghans all the way through. It seems that the West simply decided to turn its back on the country and let the Afghans deal with the challenges they are facing for the most part on their own. Today, Afghanistan could witness the worst humanitarian crisis the world has ever seen unless there is a rapid response to address this misery.

Afghanistan could witness the worst humanitarian crisis the world has ever seen unless there is a rapid response.

The humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan leading parents to sell their own children can be attributed to various causes. First, the country has been living in a prolonged drought. The lack of sufficient rain has resulted in 25 provinces experiencing water and food scarcity. Certainly, this has directly worsened the country’s humanitarian crisis, as it has limited citizens’ access to basic essentials.

Second, Afghanistan has been besieged by the COVID-19 pandemic like many other countries in the world. The country has registered nearly 160,000 cases and over 7,000 deaths. And, there are probably more cases that have not been registered because of either a lack of testing or people’s unwillingness to get tested. Undoubtedly, the effects of the pandemic have further damaged the country’s already fragile economy. In 2020, the National Union of Afghanistan Workers and Employees reported that around 2 million people lost their jobs due to the pandemic.

Lastly, the current political chaos in Afghanistan has played a counterproductive role as well. The United States’ decision to withdraw from Afghanistan resulted in the Taliban consolidating their control over the country. With the political crisis still unsolved and the Taliban in power, it is expected that the country’s economic recovery would not be a central focus. It is not difficult to see that any delay in the process of reviving Afghanistan’s economy will only exacerbate the situation.

Any delay in the process of reviving Afghanistan’s economy will only exacerbate the situation.

While these are not necessarily all the factors that have led to the current humanitarian crisis, they are sufficient to explain the extent to which the country’s economy has been ravaged.

The international community can play a positive role if it has the will to do so. Ronald E. Neumann, a former US ambassador to Afghanistan, told Inside Arabia, “I have no information on whether children are being sold, but it is clear that Afghanistan is facing a major humanitarian crisis. The United States must allow more humanitarian assistance to get to Afghanistan.”

Neumann continued, “The US is correct to want to avoid assisting the Taliban, but no restrictions will be perfect. Some leakage is inevitable, and if the US does not move soon, many Afghans may die.”

Indeed, the UN Security Council adopted a U.S.-proposed resolution on December 22 that facilitates humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan while keeping funds out of the Taliban’s hands. It states that “payment of funds, other financial assets or economic resources, and the provision of goods and services necessary to ensure the timely delivery of such assistance or to support such activities are permitted.” It adds that such aid supports “basic human needs in Afghanistan” and is “not a violation” of sanctions imposed on Taliban-linked entities.

So far, the international community does not appear to have done much to help Afghanistan, and it is morally obliged to do more than it has already achieved. While the recent UNSCR paves the way for aid to get to Afghanistan, it remains to be seen how quickly assistance will reach the country or how long the Taliban will accept the terms of its delivery.