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‘I’ll be sacrificed’: The lost and sold daughters of Afghanistan | Women’s Rights

A photo of an Afghan girl on her wedding day

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Herat, Afghanistan – The last time Aalam Gul Jamshidi saw her daughter was the night the 16 year old was married off to a man more than twice her age.

Aziz Gul looked radiant in a sequinned, white wedding dress and a bright yellow headscarf, but there was fear in her otherwise solemn expressions. “If I go there, I’ll be sacrificed,” her mother remembers her daughter pleading that night last October.

Aalam Gul had a sinking feeling but convinced herself it was just nerves. Aziz Gul’s marriage had been arranged four years prior and now that the time had come, she knew it was her duty to encourage her daughter into a new family.

In Afghan culture, once a female marries, she moves in with her in-laws. Aziz Gul left her family’s home in Gozar Gah, a suburb of Herat, and moved to her new husband Musa’s home in Jawand, a rural district some 200km (124 miles) away – too far for her family to visit easily.

Five months later, the phone rang. It was Musa’s father calling to tell Aalam Gul that her daughter had been killed. Her naked body had been found in a forest just outside the village where she had lived with her in-laws. Aziz Gul had been beaten and shot four times in the back.

She was 17 years old and four months pregnant.

Aziz Gul’s family – ethnic Jamshidi Aimaq, self-described Tajik Arabs – are originally from Badghis province. They moved to Herat during the height of the conflict between the previous government and the Taliban, which retook control of the country after United States and NATO forces withdrew in August 2021.

Before the family left, when Aziz Gul was just 12, her parents agreed to marry her to Musa when she turned 16 – the minimum legal age for marriage in Afghanistan under the previous government. The Taliban has not mentioned whether that minimum age has changed. In exchange, her 26-year-old elder brother Aminullah would marry Musa’s 18-year-old niece, Shakar.

Aalam Gul shows a photo of her daughter Aziz Gul on her wedding night last year [Matt Reichel/Al Jazeera]

Across Afghanistan, it is common for children – particularly girls – to be married. Families arrange marriages to pay back personal debts, settle disputes, improve relations with rival families, or simply because they hope marriage will offer them protection from the worst extremes of economic hardship, and social and political upheaval.

Though child marriage is not thoroughly tracked in Afghanistan, with gaps in concrete,…

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