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Afghans Trading Daughters for Debt

February 15, 2001

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JALALABAD, Afghanistan (AP) _ Dirt-poor farmers, unable to pay their debts because of a Taliban ban on growing the flower that produces opium, are trading their young daughters to clear their debts, U.N. and Taliban officials say.

``I just talked to a farmer who said: ’I gave my small daughter to the one I got a loan from,‴ said Amir Mohammed Haqqani, the Taliban’s chief anti-narcotics man in Nangarhar province, which was the second-largest opium-producing region last year.

Farmers traditionally use opium as a source of credit, borrowing against the next year’s harvest, said Bernard Frahi, director of the U.N. Drug Control Program in neighboring Afghanistan.

But this year, there was no harvest because of an edict banning cultivation of the poppy, the crimson-red flower that produces opium.

Combined with a devastating drought that has killed off entire herds, destroyed crops, turned 80,000 people into refugees in their own country and forced another 170,000 fleeing to neighboring Pakistan, the ban has left many farmers destitute, authorities said.

``I talked to this uncle who gave away his 7-year-old niece whose parents had died for three bags of 150 kilograms (330 pounds) of wheat,″ Hans-Christian Poulsen of the U.N. office for the coordination of humanitarian aid to Afghanistan said in western Herat. ``This shows how desperate they are.″

In deeply conservative Afghanistan, girls often are married off at puberty. According to tradition, the family of the groom pays the bride’s parents for their daughters.

But girls are now being handed over in marriage at a much younger age to grooms who often are in their late 20s and early 30s, Poulsen said.

``The age is going down and they are going much further away to live with their new husbands,″ he said.

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