Kabul’s secret sex workers live in fear

'I was completely desperate': Kabul's secret sex workers live in fear

Photo: MASSOUD HOSSAINI / AFP via Getty Images.

A decree issued by the Taliban Prohibition of forced marriage in Afghanistan is little comfort for women who continue to feel the consequences of being victims of the practice.

Zakia, her real name, was 14 when she was forced to marry her brother’s friend in Herat province. Within days it became apparent that her new husband, who had paid a dowry equivalent to around £ 4,000, intended to force her into prostitution. In Afghanistan, a dowry or toyana, is a tradition negotiated between families before marriage, as a means of “compensation” for the family of the bride for raising the woman. It is considerably higher in rural areas, which are poorer than cities and have higher illiteracy rates.

“My husband forced me, often beat me to work and earn money,” Zakia, now 20, told VICE World News via WhatsApp. “I wasn’t ready to do this.”

Zakia fled to her brother, who she said was unaware of her friend’s intentions to marry her. But her brother then forced Zakia out of the house – “He was ashamed of me. I was completely desperate.

Zakia ended up in Kabul, where she had no money and nowhere to stay. “I slept six nights in Kabul cemeteries during the snowy winter that year, I will never forget that.”

Desperately seeking shelter, Zakia then shared her story with the owner of a restaurant in the capital. “He introduced me to a woman who ran one of the brothels,” she said. “After all this difficult time, I had no choice but to go with her.”

Before The Taliban returned to power in August, international NGOs were working to protect vulnerable women, mainly in Kabul and Herat. But after the collapse of the Western-backed Afghan government, many NGOs and their workers left the country.

Zakia says that before the Taliban returned, she was making the equivalent of around £ 1,500 a month, but with the collapse of the economy, that amount decreased to around a tenth of that. “Nothing is like before. These days are really tough. We do not have money. There is no other way but to be patient.

Sex work was technically illegal under previous Western-backed Afghan governments, but according to Zakia, “women and men were not afraid of the previous regime’s police because we could easily get rid of them with ‘silver “.

A woman who runs the only women’s shelter in Kabul told VICE World News that she expected the Taliban to try to push young men and women into marriage by cutting marriage costs.

“[Sex work] is like demand and supply, it will continue as long as human beings exist, ”she said. “The men are really scared of the Taliban now; I don’t think they will now dare to go openly to find [sex workers]. “

Heather Barr, associate director of the women’s rights division at Human Rights Watch, said Afghan women have turned to sex work mainly because of extreme poverty.

“Even before the return of the Taliban, Afghanistan had few effective social protections for women and girls. This meant that it was easy for a husband, in-laws or male family members to abuse a girl or woman, subjecting her to physical or sexual violence, or forced marriage. and / or children, or by selling it (as we hear about it more and more frequently now, as families face hunger during the worsening humanitarian crisis) or by forcing it to selling sex, ”Barr told VICE World News.

Zakia said she really fears for her life now that the Taliban is in power.

“I changed my phone after the Taliban came, since then I only speak to those I really trust,” she said.

Since the Taliban took power, the Islamist group did not allow women to return to work, and prohibits girls from entering secondary education. Women judges and lawyers, who could have defended vulnerable women, have fled the country or are living in hiding.

“The Taliban don’t seem to intend to allow women to take on these roles,” Barr said.

The Taliban have brought back the famous ministry who in the 1990s deployed male patrols with whips to ensure women obey draconian laws. Since their return to power, there have been no reports of stoning for adultery, although such cases may have occurred outside of media research – the Taliban have strengthened their control over local media, most of the women disappearing from the television channels.

A Taliban fighter in Kabul who is investigating offenses under the group’s ultra-tough interpretation of sharia, Islamic law, told VICE World News that it was difficult to find evidence of adultery. “There may be areas where adultery occurs, but it’s really hard to catch them there or find evidence,” he said.

As winter arrives in Kabul, Zakia’s only fear is her two-year-old son. “I don’t want to spend my winter in cemeteries. I will do everything I can not to let my son starve.

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