02 May “We will die of hunger if he does not work”
I am an Afghan woman and my name is Dina (not real name). I would like to share with you a small part of Afghan families’ sorrow under the Taliban.
I was walking on the street when I noticed a little boy around 10 years old cleaning cars. He was very dirty, tired, sad and hopeless. I went up close and started a conversation. I asked, “What are you doing on the streets during school hours? You should be in school, at least it is open for boys. And why do you look so tired?”
He looked at me solemnly, “My mother wakes me up every morning at 5 am and I stand here till 7 or 8 pm cleaning and washing cars. Some drivers pay, some don’t even pay. Whatever I make in a day, I take it back home to my mother. I have four older sisters but none of them are able to go to school or to work. Let alone that, they cannot even leave the house without me accompanying them. I have four adults in my house but I am forced to become the man of the house and the breadwinner of our family.”
I held his hand and told him to take me to his home. When we arrived there, I could not believe my eyes: a family of five living in a small, dark, damp room with a kitchen. It was freezing outside and they were all curled up in a corner of the room. I went into the kitchen and I saw very few utensils and a small stovetop. Stale, dry bread was stacked up on the side. The mother pointed out, “This bread will be our dinner. I add some hot water and sugar and it’s edible at least.”
I sat down to speak to the sisters when they all started sobbing loudly and one of them said, “Please we beg you, do not judge us for sending our little brother to work. We are forced to do it. Before the Taliban, I was working and all my sisters were studying. We all had dreams to learn a skill or become a doctor, a teacher or a lawyer but when the Taliban came, we lost everything in the blink of an eye.”
Another sister cried out, “We know it is wrong to send our little brother to work but we have no choice! He does not want to wake up in the morning and go to work in this freezing cold. He cries and wants to sleep, he is a child. Mostly he is in tears while changing his clothes and it really breaks our hearts. But what can we do? We will die of hunger if he does not work.”
My heart was wrenched and I was at a loss of words. I gave them all the money I had in my bag so they could at least buy basic food items like flour, sugar, oil and rice. I asked them to let the little boy rest and sleep at least for a week, he is at an age where he only needs to attend school and play with friends and with toys.
But I also understood the situation of his mother and sisters who were in such a desperate situation that they sent their most little and beloved child to work. I felt guilty asking them this but I did, “Can’t you all wear a burqa and clean the cars instead of him?”
The mother looked at me angrily, ” Didn’t you see the news? The Taliban raped a mother and her two little daughters in bright daylight! They are animals and the biggest hypocrites on Earth! They go around stoning people to death for premarital or extramarital affairs but they themselves are raping women. I fear for my daughters. If someone rapes them, who will marry them? No one! I’d rather die than lose my or my daughters’ honor.”
I was left speechless and dumbfounded. I did not know what to say. This is the reality of life in Afghanistan, you are forced to make such hard choices because you are at an absolute dead end. Under the Taliban due to poverty little boys, as young as seven, are working to bring some food to the family. They do everything like basic plumbing, changing a tire, basic carpentry, repairing and washing cars and bicycles but little girls are usually hawkers selling small items like pens, shopping bags in markets, tissue paper, fresh vegetables etc. Even these little boys are not safe on the streets. Many of them are sexually abused, raped and forced into prostitution everyday.
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