How a Young Afghan Girl Almost Got Sold in Marriage to Pay Family's Debt

The World

Internally displaced Afghan children sit near their shelter at a refugee camp in Kabul January 19, 2013. REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail (AFGHANISTAN - Tags: SOCIETY IMMIGRATION TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY) - RTR3CMWF


An article on the front page of The New York Times Monday may have struck a chord with many readers. It told the story of a 6-year-old girl in a Kabul refugee camp who was going to be sold in marriage to pay off a medical debt of about $2,500. Her father had borrowed the money to cover the cost of his wife's hospital care. Elders in the refugee camp held a hearing, known as a jirga, and determined that the girl should be given in marriage to the creditor's 17-year-old son. But after the story came out, The New York Times' website issued an online update. It said that "an anonymous donor working through an American lawyer had paid the debt." It turns out this debt was paid out last month, not on Monday, as The New York Times' first update reported it. The reporter who wrote the story was not available for comment. The American lawyer who helped with the debt transaction was Kimberly Motley, who works in Kabul. She says it wasn't an easy process to reverse the jirga's decision. "The only way you can annul the decision of the first Jirga is to appeal the decision with a second Jirga," said Motley. "And because I was heavily involved in this, they agreed that I could be in charge of the second Jirga." Motley is grateful the creditor and his son agreed to the second jirga. She calls the case "shocking but unfortunately not surprising." If there is a silver lining to the case, it's the response. Tricia Silberman, president of the Aschiana Foundation, which supports grass roots organizations in Afghanistan that educate and feed working street children, says her foundation had been planning to cover the debt, but was clearly beaten to it. And they've been receiving many pledges to save the girl. "Within the first couple of hours of the story being out," she said "we had promises of $10,000, but we haven't been paid that amount of money, so I don't like to claim that just yet. We can say we know we've received about $5,000 towards this cause." This was before the publication of The New York Times' latest update on the story. Silberman says the money will be used to educate and care for working street children around Afghanistan. She says they plan to open a clinic next month in Kabul so families won't have to go into debt for medical care.