Stop sale of children, rights watchdog says

The recent sale of three Afghan girls in separate incidents by parents blaming extreme poverty for their actions has sparked concern about the safety of poor children in Afghanistan and the lack of adequate legal mechanisms to effectively curb such trade.

Afghanistan’s Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) has expressed alarm over the sale of the children, who came from Herat, Kunduz and Takhar provinces.

“We are shocked over these cases,” Hangama Anwary, AIHRC’s commissioner on the rights of children, told IRIN in Kabul. “They pose a serious warning about a possible catastrophe which may affect poor Afghan children.”

In early January, a displaced family in Shaydayee camp in Herat Province, in western Afghanistan, reportedly sold one of their twin four-month-old daughters for 2,000 Afghanis (US$40) due to their inability to feed both babies.

On 27 January, the parents of a nine-month-old girl in northern Afghanistan’s Kunduz Province sold their daughter for US$20, the human rights commission confirmed. In addition to being very poor, both parents suffered from walking disabilities.

More on children in Afghanistan
Too many young children dying of preventable diseases - UNICEF
Some schools more vulnerable to attack than others?
Children increasingly affected by conflict
Six million schoolchildren to receive landmine coaching
Abdul Bari, Afghanistan: “I go to school risking my life and my parents’ lives”
Attacks threaten girls’ schooling in Shindand
Teenager hanged by Taliban in latest child killing
 Ten children die after security problems halt demining (Pashto)
School children suffer psychological problems after suicide bombing (Dari and Pashto) 
“I go to school risking my life and my parents’ lives" (Dari and Pashto)
Children share deprivations of imprisoned mothers (Dari and Pashto)

In neighbouring Takhar Province, another nine-month-old girl was sold for US$240, local Afghan news agency Pajhwok reported on 28 January quoting the provincial governor.

In all three cases only female children were offered for sale.

Philanthropic assistance

As a result of philanthropic financial contributions and assistance by government officials and local people, all three children have been safely returned to their parents, provincial officials say.

The parents of all the children have received financial assistance and the disabled parents have since been accommodated in a government-run home at the behest of Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

Legal or illegal?

All the parents denied any wrongdoing but called attention to their inability to feed their children due to extreme poverty.

Those that paid for the children also felt they had done no wrong as they intended to protect the children from hunger and cold.

While over 50 percent of Afghanistan’s 26.6 million people are estimated to be bellow 18 years of age, the country still does not have specific laws related to child abuse and the sale and trafficking of children.

“We are currently working to draft a law which will address various issues related to child abuse,” Anwary of AIHRC said.

However, all forms of child exploitation are prohibited by the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which Afghanistan is a signatory.

Photo: Abdullah Shaheen/IRIN
Afghanistan's human rights commission is concerned that in the absence of proper legal mechanisms more cases of child sales may occur

According to Article 35 of the convention, the state must make every effort to prevent any form of “abduction of children or sale of or traffic in children”.

The abuse and sale of children is also prohibited by Islamic Sharia law, which is the major source of nearly all laws and regulations in Afghanistan.

Stop further selling

AIHRC is concerned that the publicity derived from the recent cases of girls being sold may provoke other vulnerable parents to sell their children, particularly girls, in a bid to gain sympathy and financial assistance.

“We want the government to tackle the sale and abuse of children by their parents in a systematic, transparent and legal way, and not in an individual sympathetic manner,” said Anwary, adding that the living conditions of poor families must be improved to end the vulnerability of their children.

Plagued by decades of conflict, Afghanistan is the fifth least developed country in the world with over half of its population living below the poverty line on less than US$1 a day, according to the country’s 2007 national human development report.