Opium Brides: slavery for Afghan women

posted at 6:10 pm on March 31, 2008 by Ed Morrissey

Struggling Afghan farmers may have to pay a lot more than interest to loan sharks in their war-torn country. Some gangsters have demanded the sale of daughters as a means of recovering their debts, with the threat of death hanging over the entire family as an alternative. As Newsweek notes, even flight has its limitations:

The family’s heartbreak began when Shah borrowed $2,000 from a local trafficker, promising to repay the loan with 24 kilos of opium at harvest time. Late last spring, just before harvest, a government crop-eradication team appeared at the family’s little plot of land in Laghman province and destroyed Shah’s entire two and a half acres of poppies. Unable to meet his debt, Shah fled with his family to Jalalabad, the capital of neighboring Nangarhar province. The trafficker found them anyway and demanded his opium. So Shah took his case before a tribal council in Laghman and begged for leniency. Instead, the elders unanimously ruled that Shah would have to reimburse the trafficker by giving Khalida to him in marriage. Now the family can only wait for the 45-year-old drugrunner to come back for his prize. Khalida wanted to be a teacher someday, but that has become impossible. “It’s my fate,” the child says.

Afghans disparagingly call them “loan brides”—daughters given in marriage by fathers who have no other way out of debt. The practice began with the dowry a bridegroom’s family traditionally pays to the bride’s father in tribal Pashtun society. These days the amount ranges from $3,000 or so in poorer places like Laghman and Nangarhar to $8,000 or more in Helmand, Afghanistan’s No. 1 opium-growing province. For a desperate farmer, that bride price can be salvation—but at a cruel cost. Among the Pashtun, debt marriage puts a lasting stain on the honor of the bride and her family. It brings shame on the country, too. President Hamid Karzai recently told the nation: “I call on the people [not to] give their daughters for money; they shouldn’t give them to old men, and they shouldn’t give them in forced marriages.”

The poppy-eradication effort in Afghanistan will upset a very delicate economic situation, and it has to do with the complete lack of infrastructure in the war-torn country. American agriculture excels because of the many systems we have built to support it — storage, transportation, compensation, and so on. We can have produce to market in hours, and we can rotate crops and grow crops that quickly perish because we have storage systems that keep it all fresh for sale.

Afghanistan has none of that. They don’t have any significant refrigeration systems, and most farmers are too poor to own their own. Roads and trucks are uncommon. Even if the farmers grew vegetables in place of poppies, they couldn’t reliably get it to market in any condition for sale — and in the winter, they could not store any excess. They would starve before the next planting season.

Poppies, on the other hand, allow farmers to almost grow cash. The opium doesn’t spoil, and a good harvest acts just like cash in the bank. Farmers squirrel it away and just bring kilos to market for quick returns when needed. Opium makes the most economic sense while Afghanistan remains infrastructurally backward.

Unfortunately, the eradication policies and war have created debt issues for farmers. They have sold their future crops at discounts to lenders who claim not to charge interest, as Islam requires, but who in reality have created vigorish akin to something at which a Mafia shylock might blush. When the crops fail, they get their pound of flesh — or more literally, about 100 pounds of it.

This is nothing less than slavery. Families have bartered for dowries in many cultures, including those in the West, but this goes beyond that. If we want the people of Afghanistan to find stability and prosperity without opium, we have to begin by halting the slave trade and addressing the infrastructure issues of that nation.


Related Posts:

Breaking on Hot Air

Blowback

Note from Hot Air management: This section is for comments from Hot Air's community of registered readers. Please don't assume that Hot Air management agrees with or otherwise endorses any particular comment just because we let it stand. A reminder: Anyone who fails to comply with our terms of use may lose their posting privilege.

Trackbacks/Pings

Trackback URL

Comments

Sick. Just sick.

elpresidente on March 31, 2008 at 6:18 PM

There are times I sometimes just want that entire region to just vanish from Earth. Once the kids could be taken out safely, it wouldn’t bother me one bit to turn the whole Middle East into a giant glass sheet. Yes, I know this is ranting, but this is just so wrong on so many levels.

MNDavenotPC on March 31, 2008 at 6:20 PM

Our pharmacopoeia still contains opium-derived drugs. That opium doesn’t have to become heroin.

Sekhmet on March 31, 2008 at 6:23 PM

Sick people.

President Hamid Karzai recently told the nation: “I call on the people [not to] give their daughters for money; they shouldn’t give them to old men, and they shouldn’t give them in forced marriages.”

\

Make a freaking law and enforce it.

Connie on March 31, 2008 at 6:23 PM

It is the way of Islam

Kini on March 31, 2008 at 6:25 PM

There is a transcendent challenge facing Americans, but we can’t rise to it if our leaders can’t explain it. President Bush certainly hasn’t. To date, what should be a momentous civilizational debate — liberty versus Sharia — has fizzled into politically correct hemming and hawing over “extremism.” This poses a transcendent challenge to McCain. Can he make it clear that such “extremism” is only a part of the problem? Does he even believe that? We urgently need to understand that Western-style liberty — freedom of religion, freedom of conscience, freedom of expression, women’s rights, equality before the law — requires vigilance and protection in an era of advancing Sharia.
- Diana West

MB4 on March 31, 2008 at 6:26 PM

Our pharmacopoeia still contains opium-derived drugs. That opium doesn’t have to become heroin.

Sekhmet on March 31, 2008 at 6:23 PM

Very good point, but you still need the infrastructure and infrastructure will only begin to take root and move forward once the Afghan’s security issues (Taliban/AQ) have been eliminated.

Unfortunately it’s difficult to help a culture that is still living in the 11th century to see the benefits of moving into the 19th century let alone the 21st century.

Liberty or Death on March 31, 2008 at 6:30 PM

Some key passages from the article

Khalida’s father says she’s 9—or maybe 10. As much as Sayed Shah loves his 10 children, the functionally illiterate Afghan farmer can’t keep track of all their birth dates. Khalida huddles at his side, trying to hide beneath her chador and headscarf. They both know the family can’t keep her much longer.

This will be our darkest year since 2000,” says Baz Mohammad, 65, a white-bearded former opium farmer in Nangarhar. “Even more daughters will be sold this year.” The old man lives with the anguish of selling his own 13-year-old daughter in 2000, after Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar banned poppy growing

Late last year Khan reluctantly gave his 16-year-old daughter, Gul Ghoti, in marriage to the lender’s 15-year-old son. Besides forgiving Khan’s debt, the creditor gave him a $1,500 cash dowry. Khan calls him an honorable man. “Until the end of my life I will feel shame because of what I did to my daughter,” Khan says. “I still can’t look her in the eye.” But at least she was old enough to marry, he adds. He claims one local farmer recently had to promise the hand of his 2-month-old daughter to free his family from an opium debt.

William Amos on March 31, 2008 at 6:31 PM

Speaking of the slave trade, that’s a good anology. The American south fought to keep their slaves because without it, their economy would go bust. It hurt a lot of land owners and farmers but today our nation is a better place without it. Someday Afghanistan will be better off without opium. The selling of daughters is gonna happen with or without it because of islam anyway. Karzai is to be commended for urging his people to give up this cruel and barbaric practice.

Tony737 on March 31, 2008 at 6:31 PM

My point is it isnt just slavery its child slavery

William Amos on March 31, 2008 at 6:32 PM

This is nothing less than slavery. Families have bartered for dowries in many cultures, including those in the West, but this goes beyond that. If we want the people of Afghanistan to find stability and prosperity without opium, we have to begin by halting the slave trade and addressing the infrastructure issues of that nation.

The State Department, the U.N., Amnesty International, and the likes are all on top of it…and so is Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama. It has been consuming them. And, please do not forget the paragons in the media.

Entelechy on March 31, 2008 at 6:32 PM

The problem is endemic to the culture. The farmer’s own “tribal council” has ruled here that a 9 year old child is worth $2,000.00. When a daughter becomes worth enough that a father is willing to kill and die for her, then will this whole thing meet its overdue end.

When the “drug trafficker” shows up, Shah will duly hand over his daughter, in solidarity with the “tribal council”.

His daughter understand this. She is the brave one here.

unclesmrgol on March 31, 2008 at 6:46 PM

Is their anything redeeming about this area of the world? Anyone?

thatcher on March 31, 2008 at 6:55 PM

This is what happens when we start fighting the “war” on drugs instead of the war on terror. How many times have we lost our focus? Osama is still around (probably) and instead we are bullying Afghan farmers for making a livelihood.

libertytexan on March 31, 2008 at 7:19 PM

There is a very simple solution to the problem:

1) Offer to teach local farmers how to grow non-opium renewable slow perishing harvests. When farmers point to opium buyers and drug runners as better sources of cash, then…

2) Find the drug runners and opium buyers.

3) Shoot them.

4) Offer to teach local farmers how to grow non-opium renewable slow perishing harvests.

Sometimes you just have to use the correct persuasion.

wearyman on March 31, 2008 at 7:32 PM

wearyman on March 31, 2008 at 7:32 PM

Right on. Make them an offer that they can’t refuse.

Johan Klaus on March 31, 2008 at 8:09 PM

Life is cheap in that part of the world. May God help those little girls.

Zorro on March 31, 2008 at 8:15 PM

Imagine how these financial transactions would appear on Ebay.

– Seller promised me 20 kilos of opium for $2k. I waited two months and still no delivery. Seller failed to delever the opium and tried to pawn off his daughter in exchange.

– Buyer claims that opium was never delivered, and now insist that send him my 4 year old daughter in compensation. He claims that he will kill my entire family for non-compliance. I would not recomend doing business with this buyer.

jones on March 31, 2008 at 8:15 PM

A little more respect for one of the new Sharia based Democracies of the world if you please, oh look, they are building a girls school!

BL@KBIRD on March 31, 2008 at 8:47 PM

Yet another evil of our war on drugs…just let the drugs grow..better yet at 4,000 a head why not buy the daughters ourselves shipped them over here. educate them in AMerica and then ship them back to Afganisitain…call it a blood price…change the culture from the inside instead of the outside.

unseen on March 31, 2008 at 9:26 PM

libertytexan on March 31, 2008 at 7:19 PM

agreed.

I donot understand the Maerican government’s response to drugs.

The USA could buy the opium from the framers for less then it costs to try to eradicate it.

It makes no sense.

unseen on March 31, 2008 at 9:28 PM

The selling of daughters is gonna happen with or without it because of islam anyway. Karzai is to be commended for urging his people to give up this cruel and barbaric practice.

Keep fooling yourself.

aengus on March 31, 2008 at 10:09 PM

I donot understand the Maerican government’s response to drugs.

The USA could buy the opium from the framers for less then it costs to try to eradicate it.

When you pay for something you get more of it. What’s not to understand?

njcommuter on March 31, 2008 at 10:31 PM

I said this a number of times at CQ:

Why doesn’t the government (ours/ Afghanistan’s) buy the opium from the farmers in order to direct it to legitimate pharmaceutical industries? If the price is better than that offered by the traffickers, then the farmers (and their daughters) are in a win-win position.

If said governments offered an even better price for other types of sustainable crops, the cycle of impoverishment and blackmail would break.

onlineanalyst on March 31, 2008 at 11:17 PM

Yet another evil of our war on drugs…just let the drugs grow..better yet at 4,000 a head why not buy the daughters ourselves shipped them over here. educate them in AMerica and then ship them back to Afganisitain…call it a blood price…change the culture from the inside instead of the outside.

unseen on March 31, 2008 at 9:26 PM

Our motto will be today ten thousand girls, tomorrow ten thousand Ayaan Hirsi Alis.

When you pay for something you get more of it. What’s not to understand?

njcommuter on March 31, 2008 at 10:31 PM

That is right. Buying opium on the open market will just increase the price because you will still have the demand from the drug consuming public. The correct thing to do is to decriminalize the growing poppies and the consumption of the products. Trafficking would be illegal for all but companies willing to be honest about how much they are transporting and pay taxes in accordance. Soon prices will drop and the Afghan farmers will have an incentive to look to other crops. Then fight the drug war by going after the demand side, convince drug consumers that they are killing themselves and offer treatment. Keep taxes high to discourage drug use but not so high as to encourage smuggling.

It is a shame that our stupid drug war is getting in the way of the war on terror.

Bill C on March 31, 2008 at 11:21 PM

As has been said, the sale/debt/gift of young girls would happen if there was no opium and for the slightest reason among Muslims. It is the idea that a scenario can arise where girls can be obtained by “deserving” males. It’s a Muslim male pervs perk in life and a sign of success.

This isn’t some painful necessity for fathers that will be erased by putting refrigerated trucks on four lane IED expresses. They will be giving away females for flat tires and fender benders. It’s the trade in young women that’s important, not the excuses given for it. And besides sharia allows for it and Sharia is Afghanistans constitutional trump card.

BL@KBIRD on April 1, 2008 at 1:38 AM

Ed

You are putting the cart before the horse. As long as there is Islam, such practices will continue.

infidelpride on April 1, 2008 at 2:03 AM

These 5th century goat fu–ers think pigs the lowest life forms?
These filthy Islamic pedophiles are nothing more than a sh!t nugget on a pigs ass.

leanright on April 1, 2008 at 8:17 AM

“The poppy-eradication effort in Afghanistan will upset a very delicate economic situation, and it has to do with the complete lack of infrastructure in the war-torn country.’

Nothing to do with a war-torn country. They always grew opium poppies. The lack of infrastructure is more a consequence of the always divided government, the large distances involved, and the terrain.

For those who suggest a replacement, just what robust crop, with a like return, will grow where the poppies are grown

davod on April 1, 2008 at 8:20 AM

PS:

There is already a commercial poppy crop grown for medical use. One of the locations is Tasmania, Australia.

If you decide to buy from the farmers in Afghanistan, the Tasmanian growers will lose out.

davod on April 1, 2008 at 8:24 AM

The problem is endemic to the culture. The farmer’s own “tribal council” has ruled here that a 9 year old child is worth $2,000.00. When a daughter becomes worth enough that a father is willing to kill and die for her, then will this whole thing meet its overdue end.
.
When the “drug trafficker” shows up, Shah will duly hand over his daughter, in solidarity with the “tribal council”.
.
His daughter understand this. She is the brave one here.
.
unclesmrgol on March 31, 2008 at 6:46 PM

What about the fault of the fathers to agree to giving the daughters away? Then, add the fact they are risking their family by doing something declared illegal.
.
I no tolerance for drug growers who make choices then whine when they lose their family because of it. I feel forever bad about the child, but the focus needs to be the adult who agrees to do corrupt things in the first place.

Sensei Ern on April 1, 2008 at 10:20 AM