Almost six months after the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan, the United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres says that the country is “hanging by a thread.” As of January 2022, approximately twenty-three million people in Afghanistan are facing acute hunger and poverty. Children dying from starvation is becoming a daily occurrence and parents have begun to take desperate measures to protect their families, from selling their organs to selling their children.

On January 28, 2022, Sky News reported that several adults are selling their kidneys so that they have money for food. The organ trade has been growing under Taliban rule, and one kidney can bring in around the equivalent of $3,5000. However, the procedure to remove kidneys can cause medical complications that patients do not have enough money to attend to and in most cases, the money from the sale of the organ has not been enough to save people from starvation for long.

Several families spoke to SkyNews and explained that they are prepared to sell a child to have money to feed the rest of their family. The sale of a child would only provide approximately the equivalent of about $200 but for many families, this could make the difference between another child soon dying of hunger. The Taliban denies these accounts and claims that these are stories that Western news sources are publishing to discredit them. 

The sale of children is common in several rural areas of the country is not new, but more families are participating in it now than ever before. In this patriarchal society, parents often are forced to sell one or more of their daughters, some as young as six, into marriage to save the rest of their family. Often fathers are the ones to make the decision to sell a daughter and do not tell their wives. Although it is less common, boys are sold as well, typically to families who have no sons. These acts demonstrate the extreme desperation these families are in. “No mother can do this to her child,” a thirty-five-year-old other told NPR, “but when you have no other choice, you have to make a decision against your will.”  

A critical factor complicating this crisis is the inability to get humanitarian aid to affected people. Agencies that could provide aid require humanitarian licenses and exemptions to financial sanctions. They also need to be able to withdraw money in Afghanistan. However, according to the Norwegian Refugee Council, the US treasury and other Western financial institutions have tied up donor funds. People cannot even use services like Western Union to send money to relatives in Afghanistan. Global powers are using money as a way to try and intimidate the Taliban, but overlooking dire human rights concerns in the process.

The way in which political tensions are preventing aid from reaching these families reveals critical oversights in anticipatory action. Child protection and food security humanitarian agencies do not have plans in place for such a politicized conflict and as a result, there is no way to get money to these families or protect the children being sold and separated from their families. The conflict also highlights the politicization of humanitarian aid is not in the best interest of people affected by protracted crises.

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