Archive for the tag “Afghanistan”

Afghan oppression: Opium drug lords and child ‘brides’

In Afghanistan, girls — as young as 6 — are being “married” to adult men who loaned money to poor farmers to finance crops of opium poppies. When the farmer can’t repay the loan, the drug lord demands a daughter in payment. When the children aren’t taken as wives, they often are trafficked to other countries, where they are used for transporting drugs or put into sex slavery.

A "wedding" couple in Afghanistan: Mohammed, 40, and Ghulam, 11. (CC AP / UNICEF / Stephanie Sinclair NC)

A “wedding” couple in Afghanistan: Mohammed, 40, and Ghulam, 11. (CC AP / UNICEF / Stephanie Sinclair NC)

Samuel Burke reports for CNN:

The mother of a little Afghan girl cannot even turn to face her daughter. She looks down in shame as she explains why she must hand the girl over to drug lords.

The father of the girl has done what many Afghan farmers must do to finance their opium farms: borrow money from drug traffickers. But the Afghan government and international forces’ attempt to halt the opium trade has quashed the father’s poppy business, and with it, his ability to pay back the lenders.

The drug lords have taken him hostage to extract a payment.

“I have to give my daughter to release my husband,” the mother explains with the girl at her side. She looks no older than six.

Ninety percent of the world’s opium – the raw source of heroin – comes from Afghanistan. Growing poppy there has been a lucrative industry.

The Afghan government has been cracking down and destroying illegal crops, leaving many farmers in the same horrifying situation as the family forced to use their own daughter as collateral for the loan.

“They’re way more dangerous and powerful than the Taliban,” one father of two kidnapped children says about the drug lords. He looks at a text messaged picture of his daughter being held in captivity as the captors demand $20,000 from the man over the telephone.

These tragic stories are documented in PBS’ award-winning Frontline film, Opium Brides, which was made by investigative Afghan reporter Najibullah Quraishi and producer Jamie Doran.

Quraishi told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour that when the families give up their children, they are often taken to other countries, like Pakistan or Iran, where they are used for transporting drugs or put into sex slavery.

Read the full story and watch a related video by clicking here.

Afghan ‘dancing boys’ are invisible victims

Ernesto Londoño writes for the Washington Post:

DEHRAZI, Afghanistan — The 9-year-old boy with pale skin and big, piercing eyes captivated Mirzahan at first sight.

“He is more handsome than anyone in the village,” the 22-year-old farmer said, explaining why he is grooming the boy as a sexual partner and companion. There was another important factor that made Waheed easy to take on as a bacha bazi, or a boy for pleasure: “He doesn’t have a father, so there is no one to stop this.”

A growing number of Afghan children are being coerced into a life of sexual abuse. The practice of wealthy or prominent Afghans exploiting underage boys as sexual partners who are often dressed up as women to dance at gatherings is on the rise in post-Taliban Afghanistan, according to Afghan human rights researchers, Western officials and men who participate in the abuse.

“Like it or not, there was better rule of law under the Taliban,” said Dee Brillenburg Wurth, a child-protection expert at the U.N. mission in Afghanistan, who has sought to persuade the government to address the problem. “They saw it as a sin, and they stopped a lot of it.”

Over the past decade, the phenomenon has flourished in Pashtun areas in the south, in several northern provinces and even in the capital, according to Afghans who engage in the practice or have studied it. Although issues such as women’s rights and moral crimes have attracted a flood of donor aid and activism in recent years, bacha bazi remains poorly understood.

… “It is very sensitive and taboo in Afghanistan,” said Hayatullah Jawad, head of the Afghan Human Rights Research and Advocacy Organization, who is based in the northern city of Mazar-e Sharif. “There are a lot of people involved in this case, but no one wants to talk about it.”

… Although the practice of bacha bazi has become something of an open secret in Afghanistan, it is seldom discussed in public or with outsiders.

Sitting next to the 9-year-old Waheed, who was wearing a pink pants-and-tunic set called a shalwar kameez, Mirzahan said he opted to take on the boy because marrying a woman would have been prohibitively expensive. The two have not had sex, Mirzahan said, but that will happen in a few years. For now, Waheed is being introduced to slightly older “danc­ing boys.”

“He is not dancing yet, but he is willing,” Mirzahan said with pride.

… Boys who become bachas are seen as property, said Jawad, the human rights researcher. Those who are perceived as being particularly beautiful can be sold for tens of thousands of dollars. The men who control them sometimes rent them out as dancers at male-only parties, and some are prostituted.

“This is abuse,” Jawad said. “Most of these children are not willing to do this. They do this for money. Their families are very poor.”

… When the boys age beyond their prime and get tossed aside, many become pimps or prostitutes, said Afghan photojournalist Barat Ali Batoor, who spent months chronicling the plight of dancing boys. Some turn to drugs or alcohol, he said.

“In Afghan society, if you are raped or you are abused, you will not have space in society to live proudly,” he said.

Read the full article by clicking here.

View a related photo gallery by clicking here.

Religious truth is a matter of what you believe?

A white supremacist walks into a crowded house of worship in suburban Milwaukee, Wisc., and murders six Indian-Americans. The killer, 40-year-old Wade Michael Page, is roundly condemned for the atrocity. Everywhere, that is, except in neo-Nazi circles. To members of that “community,” Page is a hero, a martyr with enough courage to make a bold statement by boldly acting.

In eastern Afghanistan’s Kunar province, during the celebration of Islam’s holy month of Ramadan, a Muslim extremist detonates a vest packed with explosives and kills three members of the U.S. military and three civilians. While family members mourn loved ones lost in the atrocity, radical elements like the Taliban and al Qaeda celebrate.

A powerful sense of truth and justice surges in the hearts of all those affected, yet two “communities” — attackers and survivors — couldn’t disagree more on the justice of what has happened.

One society condemns a behavior, another praises it. How do we know who is right?

The owners of a fast-food restaurant chain donate money to organizations that seek to strengthen the traditional family; reporters, politicians, and gay activists rise up to protest the “hatred” and “intolerance.” Is there no way to discern the truth of the matter? Is it all just a matter of opinion?

No one on either side of these conflicts believes it is just a matter of opinion. Everyone is passionately convinced about the truth — but Truth appears to be hopelessly confused about what is true.

We are a world of many tribes, and some of those tribes have declared war on others. In each of the cases above, one tribe will not rest until its enemy has submitted and accepted the warring tribe’s “truth.” Even some anti-war activists seem to be perfectly willing to use violence to make their point.

Is submission to the stronger power the only peace we can find? Is war the only path to peace? Is there no way for all our tribes to know what is just and true for everyone, everywhere, all the time?

Not if religious and moral truth is just a matter of what an individual or tribe believes it is. And, sadly, pretty much everyone believes just exactly that. Every religion has its revelation. Every tribe has its wise men. Every atheist and skeptic has his dawkins. Each community passionately believes its truth — and dismisses those who disagree as fools, infidels, or haters.

This rant was triggered by an op-ed published in today’s on-line edition of the Salt Lake Tribune. The article, entitled “Truth in Mormonism,” was written by Ed Firmage Jr., a former Mormon who had an epiphany in grad school that all religion is “a pious fraud.”

Mr. Firmage, who now sees himself as a skeptic, tells us that “religious truth is a matter of what you believe,” that ultimately “the truth of religion, if it has any truth, … is not what you believe but what you do.” If we could all just understand that religious truth is what transforms us, not what our creeds tell us, we could avoid “the usual sectarian disputes” and focus on “things that can unite us in common cause.” “Humanity today faces challenges greater than any in history,” Mr. Firmage says. “These are decades that need a saving truth, not of creeds but of faith in action, faith directed at solving the real problems of our time.”

Sounds good, doesn’t it? Yet everyone in the three examples I cited above has a faith, and the aggressors all believed their actions were directed at “solving the real problems of our time.”

Contra Mr. Firmage, religious and moral truth cannot simply be a matter of what an individual or group believes. The world cannot be united in common cause without some way of agreeing on the values that define the “real” problems of our time and give us guidance on solving them.

Mr. Firmage, like everyone else, would be only too glad to help the rest of us understand the truth that will unite us — as long as everyone is rational enough to see things the way he does. He probably misses the irony that his epiphany about the truth of religion and the importance of faith in action actually is just another religious truth.

I don’t mean to be hard on this fellow. He isn’t any more deluded than other skeptics who have found an intellectual insight they believe transports a person above tribal superstition. But the fact is, he can’t point to any evidence that makes his “truth” — his opinion — any better than that of the neo-Nazi or Islamist. Even if everyone agreed with his perspective, agreement is no indicator of truth. Humans, even the smart ones, are notoriously blind to our own prejudices and faulty assumptions.

So what is the solution? Is there nowhere in the real world we can look for proof of what is true and just? Is there no one whose “faith in action” shows us a path forward that everyone can agree is good?

I think proof beyond reasonable doubt is available, but many people — most people, actually — won’t like it.

I guess we’re all entitled to our own opinions — or we used to be, anyway. And we all get to live with the consequences of thinking that religious and  moral truth is just a matter of what you believe.

God help us all.

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Cross-posted from kainos.

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