Tuesday, April 8, 2008

In Afghanistan's War on Drugs, Girls Lose

Over 90% of the world's opiates, used to make heroin or opium, originate in Afghanistan and have been grown there for several decades. Recently, the government, pressured by the US and its "War on Drugs", has begun eradication efforts. The efforts focus on slowing the drug trade by destroying individual farmers' crops, burning their fields, which are often their only source of income. When these fields are burned, farmers go into debt and are forced to borrow money impossible to repay with the income of their "replacement" crops such as wheat (These crops generate very little revenue). So, how are these debts repaid?

With Child Brides.

When a child is sold to a husband, her family receives a very significant dowry, oftentimes upward of $1500, a huge sum in the poverty-stricken nation, which they in turn use to pay off debts or as a source of income.

These girls are anywhere between 8 and 16 years old, marrying men 5 to 10 times their age. In one case, a two month old infant was promised to a 55 year old man when she comes of age (which is 15). Many of these girls, as young as 11, have committed suicide in order to escape a life of abuse, assault, and rape.

But, this practice must be illegal? No. "
So Shah took his case before a tribal council in Laghman and begged for leniency [from a man trying to collect on a debt]. Instead, the elders unanimously ruled that Shah would have to reimburse the trafficker by giving Khalida to him in marriage." It is a court-ordered "solution" to debt repayment.

Well, at least its rare? No. "In the two districts she [reporter,
Angiza Afridi
] studied, approximately half of new brides had been given in marriage to repay opium debts."

"Khalida [a nine year old child, soon to be a bride] wanted to be a teacher someday, but that has become impossible. "It's my fate," the child says."

I know that this practice is happening a world away, but it cannot be ignored. A nine year old in this, our world cannot believe her fate is to marry a man several times her age for money. Action must be taken. And this is my call to you.


Amelia said...

What sort of action? I don't know much about opiates, but are they very harmful? Was it better that they got rid of them, but not well-thought enough to provide families with another means of existence?? I know you said that the problem starting because of pressure by Western nations to get rid of opiate crops, which were many families' only source of income.

Is there another sort of crop that could replace these that would generate more money for these families so they don't need to sell their daughters? If so, how would it be implemented (perhaps a different method than what got rid of the opiates to begin with?)?

Sorry...more questions than answers.

Kate said...

Okay. Opiates are the main "ingredient" in drugs like heroin or opium. So, yes they are harmful, but only to the drug users. The "War on Drugs" in the United States has had, I feel, much more harmful consequences to a much larger number of people, than if it had never been begun.

The families growing opiates are not the people using these drugs, they are poor farmers trying to make a living in the same way generations of their families have, but they are being punished, harshly.

Drug users often get a slap on the wrist, a fine, or community service. However,it is the dealers, traffickers, and producers, all who are just trying to survive, whose lives are ruined.

The "War on Drugs" disproportionately punishes people of color by facilitating longer sentences for selling or possessing drugs traditionally used in black communities.

If the "War on Drugs" had not been begun, drug users would have continued a cycle of self-destruction, and families, in the United States and overseas, would not have been harmed. Little girls would not have become brides.

I have done a lot of research on this topic, so maybe I will do an extended post later on the overall topic to give people a little more context.

Amelia said...

An extended post would be great, Kate. I'm interested to hear what else you have to say.

Amelia said...

That picture reminds me of the end of the movie "Osama." Sad...

Michael said...

Even with my slight libertarian leanings, Kate, I can't justify allowing the drug trade to continue in the United States in order to protect opium farmers in Afghanistan.
Also, suggesting that the dealers, traffickers, and producers are 'just trying to survive' ignores the fact that they're surviving at the expense of fellow human beings, many of whose lives are destroyed by their products. Granted, we can't fault a farmer in Afghanistan for doing what he knows to do, but I really do believe that trafficking and producing opiates and cocaine and the like should be discouraged. Ideally, there would be some way to compensate the farmers for their cooperation, and perhaps some way to assist them in moving to a different crop to grow and sell.

Kate said...

This is a complex tompic and maybe my post over-simplified it a bit.

However you brought up a good issue, Mike, allowing the US drug trade to continue to protect Afghani farmers. The US is pressuring the Afghani governemnt. The Afghani government has to bend to the US will and Afghani men and women are suffering to help the US. Its imperialism.

Also, I agree that drug traffickers and producers are surviving at the expense of others, drug addicts. But, the "War on Drugs" is allowing these people to remain addicts. They are being sent to jail instead of rehab. It is also burning poor farmers' crops without helping in finding finacially equal replacment crops.

The "War on Drugs" is not working. It is hurting innocent people and allowing addicts to remain addicts.

This post was not meant to be a tangent on the "War on Drugs" but to call attention to a heartbreaking problem and to brainstorm a solution.