Pawana rescued: 9-year-old child married in Afghanistan was taken back to safety

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Parwana Malik, 9 years old, only brought a blanket to keep warm and balanced with her siblings on her mother’s lap. The family was rescued by an assistance team that saved the girl from child marriage.

“I’m really happy,” Pawana said during the trip. “(The charity) drove me away from my husband, and my husband is old.”

At that time, Parwana’s father Abdul Malik said that she had been crying the night before and begged him not to sell her, saying that she wanted to go to school.

After the CNN story caused an international outcry, Parwana was sent back to her family due to strong community opposition to the buyer.

Too Young to Wed (TYTW), a non-profit organization based in the United States, also participated in the relocation of these girls, their siblings and their mothers to safe houses.

“This is a temporary solution,” said Stephanie Sinclair, founder of TYTW. “(But) what we really want to do is prevent girls from being sold to marriages.”

Afghanistan is under pressure

Since the Taliban took over Afghanistan in mid-August after the withdrawal of the U.S. and allied forces, Afghanistan’s economic lifeline has been severed. Billions of dollars in central bank assets have been frozen, bank cash has run out, and wages have not been paid for several months.
Now, aid agencies and rights organizations, including Human Rights Watch, warn that as the freezing winter approaches, the poorest people in the country are facing famine.
According to a recent report by IPC, which assesses food insecurity, more than half of the country’s approximately 39 million people will face severe starvation at an emergency level in March. The report estimates that more than 3 million children under five are already suffering from acute malnutrition.

Dominic Stillhart, Director of Operations at the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), who has just returned from a six-day visit, said: “As the country is teetering on the precipice of man-made disasters, the international community is shrinking.” To Afghanistan.

Even before the Taliban took over, hunger in this impoverished country was widespread, and now young girls are paying the price with their bodies and lives.

“Young Afghan girls are (is) becoming the price of food,” Mahbouba Seraj, a leading Afghan women’s rights activist, told CNN. “Otherwise their family will starve to death.”

“Usually there is a lot of pain, a lot of abuse, and these things involve a lot of abuse”Mabuba SerrajiFeminist activist

Although marriage under the age of 15 is illegal nationwide, it has been common for many years, especially in more rural areas of Afghanistan. As families have become more desperate, the situation has deteriorated since August.

“Usually there is a lot of pain, there is a lot of abuse, and these things involve a lot of abuse,” Serraji said, adding that some girls who were forced to marry died during childbirth because their bodies were too small to cope. “Some of them can’t stand it. Most of them died very young.”

In Afghanistan, women have long been regarded as second-class citizens. In the 2021 Women, Peace and Security Index, Afghanistan was listed as the worst female country in the world.

Since the Taliban took over, many of the basic rights that women have fought for in the past two decades have been denied.

Girls’ education is restricted, women are prohibited from entering certain workplaces, and actresses can no longer appear in TV series.

Free from slavery

After a four-hour mountain journey, Parwana’s family arrived at a small hotel in Herat, Afghanistan’s third largest city, late at night. Their journey was escorted by local representative of Too Young to Wed, mother Reza Gul and her brother Payinda.

Reza Gul and Payinda told CNN that Parwana’s father had started selling her against their wishes. “Of course, I was angry, I quarreled with him, I cried,” Reza Gul said. “He said he had no choice.”

CNN was granted permission to film Parwana sold to a 55-year-old white-haired man on October 24 in exchange for cash, sheep, and land worth approximately US$2,200 (200,000 afghanis).

“My father sold me because we don’t have bread, rice or flour,” Parwana told CNN at the time. “He sold me to an old man.”

Buyer Qorban told CNN that this would be his “second marriage” and he insisted that Parwana would be treated well.

Parwana’s mother said that her daughter requested to go home to reunite with her family and was allowed to return to their camp several times.

“She said they beat her and she didn’t want to stay there,” Reza Gul said.

“They treat me badly. They are cursing me. They wake me up early and let me work.”Palvana MalikFormer daughter-in-law

“They treat me badly, they curse me, they let me get up early and let me work,” Parwana added.

According to his family, after CNN’s report on Parwana was published, buyer Qorban received community outrage that forced him to hide. Since then, CNN has been unable to contact him or his family for comment.

In a follow-up interview on CNN, Palwana’s father said that he had also been criticized. In an interview with some local media, he felt pressured to change his views on marriage. He confirmed his initial interview with CNN and apologized.

About two weeks after the sale, Parwana was sent back to her family, but her father still owed the buyer $2,200. He used the proceeds to repay other debts.

“They gave me a new life”

Parwana and her five siblings were initially tired from long-distance driving and the sensory burden of bright lights and city traffic. But once settled down, they soon started rolling around on the bed, giggling together, enjoying their new adventure.

After staying in the hotel for two nights, the family was transferred by Too Young’s team to a nearby safe house-this is the first time Parwana has lived in a real home. For the past four years, the family lived in a tent in the Qala-e-Naw internally displaced persons (IDP) camp in Badghis province.

“I feel very happy in this house,” Palwana told CNN. “They gave me a new life.”

“I feel happy and safe here,” Reza Gul said. “Since we came, my children have eaten well and they are playing. We feel very happy.”

The family will stay in the house during the winter months and be supported and protected by TYTW, which often conducts such rescues.

TYTW’s Stephanie Sinclair added that the Parwana family’s long-term plan is still unclear and it will depend on the funding of the shelter.

Sinclair said: “It is a moral imperative that the international community does not abandon Afghan women and girls.” “Every life is important, and the lives we can save (will) improve the experience of their entire family and community.”

In addition, TYTW is also trying to provide food assistance to the Qala-e-Naw camp, which has about 150 people. This is also to help Parwana’s father stay there and try to pay off the debt. He allowed TYTW to relocate his wife and children.

“We are very happy that Parwana was rescued,” his father said before the family left. “We are very happy (TYTW) will help us and they will provide a place to live.”

‘tip of the iceberg’

Families across Afghanistan are facing similar desperate financial situations.

The CNN report also introduced two families in Ghor province in northwestern Afghanistan who are preparing to sell their young daughter.

When the CNN report was published, 10-year-old Magour was only a few days away from being sold as a marriage. She had threatened that if the transaction were successful, she would commit suicide.

Sales of the girls are now suspended and TYTW is working to rescue them and their mothers and siblings-and relocate them to the same shelter where the Parwana family now lives.

Women’s rights activists such as Mahbouba Seraj, who runs a women’s and girls’ shelter in Kabul, say that for Afghan women, the worst is yet to come.

“This is just the beginning of it, this is really the tip of the iceberg,” Seraj said. “It will continue to happen, with hunger, winter, poverty, with all this ignorance.”

A local Taliban leader told CNN that they are trying to end the illegal practice of child marriage.

Mawlawi Baz Mohammad Sarwary, director of the Badghis Information and Culture Bureau, described this practice as “common” in the area due to extreme poverty.

Women's rights activist Mahbouba Seraj said that for Afghan women, the worst is yet to come.

“Child marriage is not a good thing, we condemn it,” Savari said. “Some people are forced because they are poor.”

He also called on international groups and governments to provide assistance to save hungry families.

“We hope they will help the Badghis people,” Savari said. “We will provide them with security; we will coordinate with them and allow them all to work.”

Stillhart of the International Committee of the Red Cross stated that governments need to provide urgent funding for Afghanistan to prevent the collapse of hospitals and basic services.

“I beg the international community to find solutions that can maintain these basic services,” Stillhart told CNN. “This does require (once) injection of liquidity and cash, because since the end of August, due to the suspension of bilateral aid, Afghanistan’s entire economy has shrunk by a staggering 40%.”

Non-profit organizations still operating on the ground in Afghanistan also called for more coordinated action to help the poorest people in the country.

At the local market in Herat, TYTW helped Parwana’s family collect kitchen supplies and food.

“We are awake every night due to hunger,” said Reza Gul, Parwana’s mother. “Now we are very happy that this charity helped us and brought us to Herat.”

Parwana is now free from the life she had spent with her husband who was six times older than her, and she is excited about the prospect of going to school.

“I want to learn to be a doctor,” Pawana said. “I want to learn to serve my people.”

For those fighting for women’s rights in Afghan society, Parwana provides a glimmer of hope for herself and her country’s determination to achieve a better future, that the next generation of girls can overcome the lack of value in life.

CNN’s Jessie Yeung and Jadyn Sham reported on this.

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