This Must End

04.01.1310:37 AM ET

Why Are Girls Still Used To Pay Debts?

Six-year-old Afghan child to be traded away and married off over bad loan.

The New York Times has a heartbreaking piece today about Naghma, a 6-year-old Afghan girl (not pictured), who will likely be married off next year as a way to pay off her father’s debts. Her family, which lives in a sprawling refugee camp in Kabul, borrowed $2500 from a neighbor to pay for hospital bills and medical care for Naghma’s mother and her eight siblings—including a three-year-old who later froze to death because the family could not afford firewood  to survive through the brutal winter. Unless Naghma’s father can repay the money within a year, the girl will be married off as collateral to the neighbor’s 17-year-old son, as ruled by a council of elders.

As the Times notes, the practice is increasing in Afghanistan due to the fraying social fabric of the war-torn nation. Far from his kinsmen, who might have stepped in to help him pay off the debt, Naghma’s father had little recourse to avoid his daughter’s fate as dictated by the council of elders or the jirga. “This kind of thing never happened at home in Helmand,” said Naghma’s grandmother, a camp social worker. “I never remember a girl being given away to pay for a loan.”

Women’s activists have caught wind of Naghma’s plight and petitioned Afghanistan’s Interior Ministry to intervene—child marriage is technically a violation of Afghan law, as is selling women—but advocates say nothing has happened to save the girl from being traded away.