Families in Herat sell children into marriage amid crushing poverty

A family in Herat’s Shahrak-e-Sabz settlement that like many other families has been pushed to sell one of their children to marriage due to poverty.

HERAT, Afghanistan — In the Shahrak-e-Shabz, a settlement of makeshift mud-brick homes and tents for the displaced on the outskirts of Herat city, a disturbing trend is emerging. Here, among the 8,000 internally displaced people from Badghis and Farah provinces, families are increasingly selling their young daughters into marriage due to extreme poverty and hunger.

Residents of the area, like Khawar, speak of dire circumstances. “We sold our 11-year-old daughter for 400,000 Afghanis ($5,400). We’re left with nothing but destitution. I had to sell my one-year-old daughter too,” Khawar revealed in a desolate tone.

Samira, another resident, echoed this sentiment, “Families here, like ours, are selling their children so they don’t starve to death. We gave our children away because of hunger.”

Gulsoom, 8, says she has been sold for 600,000 Afghanis. She says the boy who is expected to marry her is also eight years old.

One such child, Gulsoom, is only 8 years old. Her family married her off to a family in the Jawand district of Badghis for 600,000 Afghanis ($8,200). “My father married me to a boy my age to feed my brothers,” Gulsoom said, summarizing her family’s desperate decision.

The economic crisis here has hit families hard, with even one-year-old girls being sold. Gulsoum’s mother, though relieved to have found money, is filled with worry about her daughter’s marriage. “We had no choice but to give our seven-year-old daughter for 600,000 Afghanis due to poverty,” she said.

Family of Samira, a woman in Shahrak-e-Sabz area in Herat, who has been pushed to sell one of her children due to poverty.

A report by The Washington Post highlighted that 118 girls were sold by their families in the Shahrak-e-Sabz area. Another 116 families are reportedly waiting to find buyers for their daughters.

Data from the United Nations Development Program indicates a grim reality: 85% of Afghan citizens live below the poverty line.

Children at a tent in the Shahrak-e-Sabz area where dozens of children have been sold for marriage due to poverty among their families.

These sales are occurring under the Taliban administration, which, upon coming to power at the end of 2021, declared that girls should not be treated as property and should consent to marriage. Yet, in the face of overwhelming poverty, such declarations provide little solace to families and young girls like Gulsoom.