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A 6-year-old Afghan girl sold by her father into an impending marriage to pay off a family medical debt got a reprieve Monday: She will now get to stay with her parents, thanks to an anonymous donor who is paying off the debt of $2,500 through an American lawyer, according to a still-developing New York Times report.
The girl, Naghma, wound up being bartered by father Taj Mohammad after he borrowed the $2,500 from a fellow refugee-camp resident over the course of a year. The money was to pay for a hospital treatment for his wife and medical care for some of his nine children, including a three-year-old who later froze to death. If he couldn’t pay it off in another year, Naghma would be forced to wed the lender’s 17-year-old son.
“They said, ‘Pay back our money,’ and I didn’t have any money, so I had to give my girl,” Mohammad told the New York Times. “I was thankful to them at the time, so it was my decision, but the elders also demanded that I do this.” Soon after the deal was struck, the boy to whom Naghma was engaged insisted that she stop attending school, which she loves, her father said.
On Monday afternoon, there was no word on who paid off the debt or how. But now that it has been paid, said a New York Times follow-up story, the girl, Naghma, will remain with her family. She will no doubt continue to live in extreme poverty in the Kabul refugee camp, and will perhaps even forced into marriage when she’s older. Still, she is one of the luckier girls of Afghanistan, where half of all girls are forced to marry under age 15, according to estimates by the United Nations agency UN Women. That’s despite the legal age for marriage in the country being 16 for girls.
Ending the practice remains a huge challenge in Afghanistan's patriarchal society, where it’s somewhat traditional to give girls away to settle debts or pay for their relatives’ crimes. Tribal customs often condone marriage once puberty is reached, or even earlier, and the government has been unable or unwilling to challenge the law effectively.
Manizha Naderi, the executive director of Women for Afghan Women, a group that runs various shelters in the country, told the New York Times in a previous article that poverty is the motivation for many child marriages. That’s either because a wealthy husband pays a family well for his bride, or because the father of the bride will then have one less child to support. “Most of the time they are sold,” Ms. Naderi said. “And most of the time it’s a case where the husband is much, much older.”
Stories like Naghma’s come at a slow but steady clip out of Afghanistan and many other countries, including India. In 2010, two girls, ages 13 and 14, dressed as boys and fled their elderly husbands after refusing to consummate the marriages. They made it far from their remote village, but were eventually caught by police and returned home, where they were publicly, viciously flogged. Authorities did nothing, despite the flogging being caught on tape and human-rights groups’ efforts to intervene.
While the case may have been shocking, Fawzia Kofi, a prominent female member of Parliament, told the New York Times that, it was far from the only one. “I’m sure there are worse cases we don’t even know about,” she said. “Early marriage and forced marriage are the two most common forms of violent behavior against women and girls.”
In a more recent and widely reported case, a 15-year-old Afghanistan girl forced into marriage, Sahar Gul, was rescued from six months of torture at the hands of her in-laws. They kept her locked in a basement, ripped out her fingernails and burned her with hot irons—and, a rare instance of justice, were eventually brought to justice and sentenced to 10 years in prison.
According to a short Pulitzer Center film, “Too Young to Wed: The Secret World of Child Brides,” by National Geographic photographer Stephanie Sinclair, “Child marriage occurs in more than 50 developing countries around the world, and almost always results in the girl’s removal from school. What families don’t realize,” Sinclair explains through her narration, “is by curtailing a girl’s education, they’re only perpetuating the cycle of poverty.
She added, “As one Afghan police officer told me, girls are routinely seen as family burdens, while their male counterparts are seen as kings.”
Girl Shot by Taliban in Critical Condition After Surgery
KARACHI, Pakistan — At the age of 11, Malala Yousafzai took on the Taliban by giving voice to her dreams. As turbaned fighters swept through her town in northwestern Pakistan in 2009, the tiny schoolgirl spoke out about her passion for education — she wanted to become a doctor, she said — and became a symbol of defiance against Taliban subjugation.
On Tuesday, masked Taliban gunmen answered Ms. Yousafzai’s courage with bullets, singling out the 14-year-old on a bus filled with terrified schoolchildren, then shooting her in the head. Two other girls were also wounded in the attack.
All three survived, but on Wednesday a neurologist said Ms. Yousafzai was in critical condition at a hospital in Peshawar, though doctors had been able to remove a bullet. A government official in Peshawar, speaking on condition of anonymity, said arrangements had been made to send Ms. Yousafzai abroad for treatment, but that doctors had said she should not be moved for now. The two other wounded girls were reported to be in stable condition.
A Taliban spokesman, Ehsanullah Ehsan, confirmed by phone Tuesday that Ms. Yousafzai had been the target, calling her crusade for education rights an “obscenity.”
“She has become a symbol of Western culture in the area; she was openly propagating it,” Mr.
Ehsan said, adding that if she survived, the militants would certainly try to kill her again. “Let this
be a lesson.”
The Taliban’s ability to attack Pakistan’s major cities has waned in the past year. But in rural areas along the Afghan border, the militants have intensified their campaign to silence critics and impose their will.
That Ms. Yousafzai’s voice could be deemed a threat to the Taliban — that they could see a schoolgirl’s death as desirable and justifiable — was seen as evidence of both the militants’ brutality and her courage.
“She symbolizes the brave girls of Swat,” said Samar Minallah, a documentary filmmaker who has worked among Pashtun women. “She knew her voice was important, so she spoke up for the rights of children. Even adults didn’t have a vision like hers.”
Ms. Yousafzai came to public attention in 2009 as the Pakistani Taliban swept through Swat, a picturesque valley once famed for its music and tolerance and as a honeymoon destination.
Her father ran one of the last schools to defy Taliban orders to end female education. As an 11-year-old, Malala — named after a mythic female figure in Pashtun culture — wrote an anonymous blog documenting her experiences for the BBC. Later, she was the focus of documentaries by The New York Times and other media outlets.
“I had a terrible dream yesterday with military helicopters and the Taliban,” she wrote in one post titled “I Am Afraid.”
The school was eventually forced to close, and Ms. Yousafzai was forced to flee to Abbottabad, the town where Osama bin Laden was killed last year. Months later, in summer 2009, the
Pakistani Army began a sweeping operation against the Taliban that uprooted an estimated 1.2 million Swat residents.
The Taliban were sent packing, or so it seemed, as fighters and their commanders fled into neighboring districts or Afghanistan. An uneasy peace, enforced by a large military presence, settled over the valley.
Ms. Yousafzai’s prominence grew, and she became a powerful voice for the rights of children. In 2011, she was nominated for the International Children’s Peace Prize. Later, Yousaf Raza Gilani, the prime minister at the time, awarded her Pakistan’s first National Youth Peace Prize.
Mature beyond her years, she recently changed her career aspiration to politics, friends said. In recent months, she led a delegation of children’s rights activists, sponsored by Unicef, that made presentations to provincial politicians in Peshawar.
“We found her to be very bold, and it inspired every one of us,” said another student in the group, Fatima Aziz, 15.
Ms. Minallah, the documentary maker, said, “She had this vision, big dreams, that she was going to come into politics and bring about change.”
That such a figure of wide-eyed optimism and courage could be silenced by Taliban violence was a fresh blow for Pakistan’s beleaguered progressives, who seethed with frustration and anger on Tuesday. “Come on, brothers, be REAL MEN. Kill a schoolgirl,” one media commentator, Nadeem F. Paracha, said in an acerbic Twitter post.
In Parliament, Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf urged his countrymen to battle the mind-set behind such attacks. “She is our daughter,” he said.
The attack was also a blow for the powerful military, which has long held out its Swat offensive as an example of its ability to conduct successful counterinsurgency operations. The army retains a tight grip over much of Swat. But that Tuesday’s shooting could take place in the center of Mingora, the valley’s largest town, offered evidence that the Taliban were creeping back.
“This is not a good sign,” Kamran Khan, the most senior government official in Swat, said by phone. “It’s very worrisome.”
The Swat Taliban are a subgroup of the wider Pakistani Taliban movement based in South Waziristan. Their leader, Maulvi Fazlullah, rose to prominence in 2007 through an FM radio station that espoused Islamist ideology.
After 2009, Maulvi Fazlullah and his senior commanders were pushed across the border into the Afghan provinces of Kunar and Nuristan, where Pakistani officials say they are still being sheltered — a source of growing tension between the Pakistani and Afghan governments.
But over the last year or so, small groups of Taliban guerrillas have slowly filtered back into Swat, where they have mounted hit-and-run attacks on community leaders deemed to have collaborated with the government.
On Aug. 3, a Taliban gunman shot and wounded Zahid Khan, the president of the local hoteliers association and a senior community leader, in Mingora. It was the third such attack in recent months, a senior official said.
The military has asserted control in Swat through a large military presence in the valleys and support for private tribal militias tasked with keeping the Taliban at bay. But soldiers have also been accused of human rights abuses, particularly after a leaked videotape in 2010 showed uniformed men apparently massacring Taliban prisoners.
In response to criticism, the army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, announced an inquiry into the shootings. An army spokesman said it was not yet complete.
Shah Rasool, the police chief in Swat, said that all roads leading out of Mingora had been barricaded and that more than 30 militant suspects had been detained.
Reporting was contributed by Sana ul Haq from Mingora, Pakistan; Ismail Khan from Peshawar, Pakistan; Ihsanullah Tipu Mehsud from Islamabad, Pakistan; and Zia ur-Rehman from Karachi.
[Copyright & Report Reserved by New York Times]
Taliban Attack Uses Child Suicide Bomber
Associated Press / May 2, 2011 KABUL — On the first day of its promised spring offensive, the Taliban used a 12-year-old boy as a suicide bomber in an attack yesterday that killed four civilians, President Hamid Karzai said, calling the child’s recruitment inhumane and un-Islamic. It was one of several attacks across the country that killed seven people, officials said.The insurgent movement announced Saturday that it would step up operations against military bases, convoys, and Afghan officials, including members of the peace council working to reconcile with insurgent leaders.“The use of children and youths who don’t know the difference between right and wrong in terrorist attacks is inhumane and against all Islamic principles,’’ the president said.The suicide bomber detonated a vest packed with explosives inside a bazaar in the Barmal district of Paktika Province. The blast killed four civilians and wounded 12, said Mokhlis Afghan, a spokesman for the provincial governor’s office.Among the dead — and the likely target — was Sher Nawaz, head of a new district council in Paktika Province, Afghan said.According to documents from the Joint Intelligence Group at the US military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, the Taliban systematically recruits and trains juveniles to be suicide bombers.In other violence yesterday, a gunman opened fire on a checkpoint in the southwest province of Ghazni, killing two police officers, said the provincial police chief.In the south, an Afghan soldier was killed at a checkpoint in Kandahar, said deputy police chief Shershah Yousafzai. © Copyright 2011 Globe Newspaper Company.
Are Yemen's War-Haunted Children Tomorrow's Fighters?
Oliver Holmes / Amran34 mins ago 9/29/2010 1:21:48 AM
A six-year-long war in northern Yemen has created a generation of children who know of no other way of life except war. As families flee from the north to escape the fighting, memories of constant aerial bombardments, the widespread use of child soldiers and the sight of dead bodies still haunt the children, who make up around 60% of the roughly 300,000 displaced in the area's makeshift camps. What vision will they bring in coming years to a nation that many feel is at the crux of regional and global security?
The afternoon sun is a deep orange as young boys play volleyball in the dust of a school playground on the outskirts of Amran city, the first stop for many fleeing the fighting in neighboring Sa'ada province. In one of the dark classrooms, displaced children ages 2 to 15 scramble around screaming and playing. Many sit on the floor playing chess, a game the volunteers say calms the children's nerves and helps them drift away from the horrors they've witnessed. But huddled in the corner, three small sisters sit in silence, all staring down toward the floor, oblivious to the confused revelry around them. Their minds are still on their homes back in Sa'ada. (See a video of a TIME reporter's road trip through Yemen.)
"Some of the children have completely stopped speaking," says Nadia Yahya, a supervisor for psychotherapy who has been working alongside a UNICEF project to set up child-friendly spaces, like the school, where displaced children can try to return to a state of normalcy. "If they can't speak, we encourage them to play first and hope eventually they will start to talk again." When they do, says Yahya, "most of them talk about dead bodies in the roads, they talk of tanks. They know all the names of the weapons and the individual parts: AK-47s, RPGs and Canons." Children regularly recount their experiences with vigor and emotion, shouting and screaming as they explain the body parts they found near their houses. The younger children speak of "flashes in the sky" and then blood. (See pictures of Yemen's insurgency.)
The biggest problem Yahya has faced is the violence - some children, she says, fight, bite and kick when you approach them. For many of Sa'ada's children, violence has been the focus of their entire lives. The central government based in the capital Sana'a has been fighting an on-again, off-again war since 2004 with the Houthi rebels, a Zaidi Shi'a group that accuses Sana'a of religious, political and social marginalization. Saudi Arabia became involved in the conflict in November after rebels killed Saudi border-patrol guards. Saudi Arabia responded with a series of airstrikes and artillery bombardments. An August UNICEF study found that 1 in 10 displaced children had been injured as a direct result of the fighting from both sides and experienced "high levels of psychosocial stress." Half of the children interviewed had depressive symptoms and 30% were said to have suffered from a "loss of hope." When asked if he enjoyed his new life in Amran, 12-year-old Ibrahim Ahmed from Sa'ada didn't want to talk about his new life. His thoughts were still on his old one. "Our country is destroyed," he says with indignation. "May Allah curse the Houthis."
The government and rebels signed a truce in February to end the sixth round of war, code-named "Operation Scorched Earth." But in July, fighting flared up again when government-allied tribes and the Houthi clashed, bringing the frontline south from Sa'ada into Amran and threatening to start a seventh round of war. Amran residents say the Houthis want to move the conflict here, as weapons are widely available in the region. At the gun souk in Amran's old city, an arms dealer lays out assault rifles for the consideration of buyers. At his home, he says, a stock of bazookas, grenades and even antiaircraft guns gather dust in his basement.
Even the Houthis are worried about the psychological stress that the fighting is putting on children. When UNICEF Yemen representative Geert Cappelaere met with rebel representatives, they told him their biggest concern was the distress in children. "In my entire career, I have never heard that before," says Cappelaere, who has worked in other war zones before. "It was a real eye-opener."
Iman Suleman, an 18-year-old refugee who volunteers with child-friendly spaces, says, "The children have awful dreams and if they hear a plane or even a nearby factory - they start to scream." Suleman and her colleagues gave the children paper and crayons, but like the children of Darfur, they drew what they had lived through. "They wouldn't stop drawing blood," she sighed.
But psychosocial distress is not the only issue. Child labor and trafficking, exposure to land mines and unexploded ordnance, and the use of child soldiers were reported by displaced children and their caregivers. "The number of children who saw people killed is staggering. It is abundantly clear that all parties, the Houthis and the government-sympathetic tribes, are using child soldiers," says Cappelaere.
And as the young boys leave to fight, the young girls from Sa'ada are being married off. Even in Yemen's peaceful regions, child marriage is widespread, particularly in rural areas, where poor parents see marriage as financial security for their children. Some girls are married off as young as 8. In Sa'ada, the uncertainty of displacement and war has meant families are having their girls married younger and younger, fearful that brothers and fathers, the main breadwinners, may be off fighting or might die. Doctors in Sa'ada are reporting that in 30% of births, the mother is under the age of 15. With an 85% illiteracy rate among the displaced, there are stories of young mothers feeding their month-old children Pepsi and 7Up.
Pakistan leader says militants could exploit flood
Nahal Toosi, Associated Press Writer1 hr 55 mins ago
ISLAMABAD – Islamist terrorists may exploit the chaos and misery caused by the floods in Pakistan to gain new recruits, the country's president said Thursday.
Asif Ali Zardari's remarks were echoed by U.S. Sen. John Kerry, who toured some of the worst hit areas and visited a relief camp alongside the president.
The floods have affected 20 million people and about one-fifth of Pakistan's territory, straining its civilian government as it also struggles against al-Qaida and Taliban violence. Aid groups and the United Nations have complained that foreign donors have not been quick or generous enough given the scale of the disaster.
"All these catastrophes give strength to forces who do not want a state structure," Zardari said. "There is a possibility that the negative forces would exploit the situation. Like they would take the babies who have been made orphans and take them to their camps and train them as the terrorists of tomorrow."
Zardari's government has been criticized for failing to respond quickly enough, and Islamist charities — at least one of which has alleged links to terrorism — have been active in the flood-hit areas. There are also concerns the scale of the suffering could stoke unrest and political instability that may impact Pakistan's fight against the Taliban.
Kerry said: "None of us want to see this crisis to provide an opportunity or an excuse for people who want to exploit the misery of others for political or ideological purpose and so it is important for all of us to work overtime."
More than three weeks after the floods first begun, the U.S., Germany and Saudi Arabia all announced new pledges of aid, while Japan said it would send helicopters to help distribute food, water and medicine. The Asian Development Bank said it would redirect $2 billion of existing and planned loans for reconstruction.
"If we don't do it quick, if we don't do it well, what will the Pakistani people think?" said Juan Miranda, the bank's director general for Central and West Asia. "We have to put every road and every bridge back into the shape where they should be."
The United States has deployed 18 army helicopters to hard-hit areas and given other aid worth $90 million. Kerry said that would increase to $150 million. The figure is expected to be announced at a U.N. General Assembly meeting in New York on Thursday.
Saudi Arabia said it would donate $80 million to Pakistan, the official Saudi Press Agency reported, making it one of the largest donors. The country has for years sought to project its influence in Pakistan and has funded the spread of hardline Islamic theology there.
Pakistan is vital for America's strategic goals of defeating militancy and stabilizing neighboring Afghanistan so its troops can one day withdraw. Before the floods, Washington had already committed to spending $7.5 billion over the next five years on humanitarian projects in Pakistan.
The U.N. children's fund said Pakistan will need international aid for several months to cope with the flood disaster, and relief workers urgently need cash donations, said Daniel Toole UNICEF's regional director for South Asia.
Toole said Thursday parts of the country may remain flooded even after the rain stops and stagnant water increases the risk of malaria, diarrhea and cholera. UNICEF expects to raise its original appeal of $47 million fivefold to meet the increased needs, he said.
The floods began in the northwest of the country after exceptionally heavy monsoon rains and have since swamped thousands of towns and villages in Punjab and Sindh provinces. While rainfall has lessened, flooding is continuing in parts of Sindh province as water from the north courses down the Indus and other rivers.
Local aid groups, the Pakistani army and international aid agencies have helped hundreds of thousands of people with food, shelter, water and medical care, but the distribution has been chaotic and has not come close to reaching everyone.
Officials said the ancient ruined city and world heritage site Mohenjo Daro in the Larkana district was now at risk. "Our experts are also present at Mohenjo Daro to monitor the flood situation," said government archaeologist Qasim Ali.
Mohenjo Daro's structures, dating back to the third millennium B.C., are mostly made of unbaked brick and are vulnerable to flood damage.
Associated Press writer Chris Brummitt in Islamabad contributed to this report.
US Heartbroken that Terrorists use Children
By EDITH M. LEDERER, Associated Press WriterTue May 20, 10:08 PM ET
The top American envoy at the U.N. slammed terrorists and insurgents for using children to carry out violence, but said Tuesday that the U.S. tries to provide special treatment when it detains those young people.
U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad's comments followed the release of a U.S. report that 2,500 people under age 18 have been detained, almost all in Iraq, since 2002 during the war on terror. Some had been held for periods up to a year or more.
"We are heartbroken that terrorists and extremists use kids for their campaign of violence," said Khalilzad, a former U.S. ambassador to both Iraq and Afghanistan who has been close to the scenes of the detentions.
The report said the exact age of the juveniles is not known. The majority are believed to be 16 or 17 years old. In the United States a 17-year-old can enlist in the U.S. army, with parental consent. It said that the U.S. military is currently holding about 500 juveniles in detention centers in Iraq, and has about 10 detained at the U.S. base at Bagram, Afghanistan.
"It is very unfortunate that insurgents, terrorists use children, young people, in their campaign of violence," he said. "Because of that we've had to detain young people who should be in school learning and preparing for a productive life but are being used for these purposes."
The envoy said the American government understands the needs of children. "We do our best to have special treatment of them in terms of their psychological need, their educational needs, and keep them apart form adults, and work with their communities and their families."
He said a special educational curriculum is being prepared for the youngsters.
"We do what we can, as best as we can, to be sensitive and to deal with their needs," Khalilzad said. The report said that of the total detained, all but 100 had been picked up in Iraq. Of the remainder, most were swept up in Afghanistan.
The U.S. military says it has held eight juveniles, ages 13-17, at Guantanamo since the detention center opened in 2002. Six were released and two are now adults facing war crimes charges.