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Afghan Women Sold as "Opium Brides"

By McCarton Ackerman 02/14/13

With their opium farms destroyed, debt-ridden farmers sell their daughters to drug traffickers.

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Policy makers have yet to find solutions.
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Afghan and international forces have achieved some success in efforts to destroy opium crops throughout the country. But a sad side effect of this is that some farming families are reportedly then left with no way to pay off their debts except to sell their daughters to drug traffickers. PBS' award-winning Opium Brides reveals that families who refuse to give up their daughters face grave consequences—one father who resisted was beheaded with a pen knife. Traffickers are also known to take indebted farmers' children and hold them for ransom or taken neighboring Pakistan or Iran, where they may be made to transport drugs or sold into sex slavery. “At its core, the problem of ‘opium brides’ and other ‘loan brides’ is one of human trafficking and of the utter devaluing of women’s and girls’ lives,” says Una Moore, a Kabul-based development consultant. Trading women and girls into debt marriage is a centuries-old practice in Afghanistan, originating from the Pashtun practice of exchanging the bride for a dowry. But many Pashtun families now view these practices as a disgrace, and Afghan president Hamid Karzai spoke out against debt marriage in 2008. There's no official count of how many opium and debt brides there are in the country, but human rights advocates fear that many more will suffer this fate until Afghan policy makers can find a way both to end the opium trade and protect farmers’ families.

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.

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