Sitting on the cold mud floor of their small house, Jamila,* had been chewing on chunks of leftover carrots with her four siblings, unaware that these were the last moments she’d be spending with her family; that she - a three-year-old toddler, a quiet girl with shining brown eyes and rosy cheeks - would soon be separated from the comfort of her mother and sisters - forever, and for just $600.
The choice to sell their daughter - the youngest of five girls - hadn’t come easy, but her parents say that with rising poverty and growing unemployment, it was inevitable. “We are starving; all of us,” her mother Massouma* said.
“We don’t have anything to eat and we survive picking food from the garbage. That’s why it’s better to sell one of my daughters so that my other four children can survive.”
It’s a choice Massouma had never wanted to make, but with her husband unemployed and her children crying for food daily, she didn’t see an alternative.
Jamila had already been born displaced; growing up in a camp of tents and simple mud houses adjunct to Herat’s sprawling suburbs, a city of one million people in western Afghanistan. Years ago, her family had left their native Badghis, a rural province of rolling hills spotted with bright red flowers during spring where water had become too scarce to survive. During the hot and dry summers, most rivers evaporated and groundwater either depleted or was too salty. Jamila’s parents made the move to Herat when farming yields had become too low, pushed by a severe drought that had killed most crops four years ago.
They had hoped for a better life - a steady income, regular job opportunities and education for their children - in Herat, but neither had materialised. They miss their native Badghis; its quietness and serenity; its fresh spring flowers. Years after leaving behind their home and extended family, they were still living in a single-room hut that Jamila’s father Zaki had constructed himself. They still depended on people’s charity. Things had turned for the worse.
Hunger had been creeping in slowly. The casual labour that Zaki used to pick up daily ceased; the currency deflated with the change of the government last August.
“For several days now we didn’t have any flour to bake bread. I managed to collect these carrots because the children were crying and asking for food,” Zaki* said, motioning towards his daughters, still chewing their meal. He’s ashamed to admit it: “The farmer had thrown them into the garbage because they weren’t good anymore.”