A nine-year-old girl who was sold by her father to a 55-year-old man as a child bride in Afghanistan has been rescued by a charity.
Parwana Malik was sold for the equivalent of £1,600 in land, sheep and cash to a stranger named Qorban so her father Abdul Malik could pay for food in the Taliban-ruled nation.
Parwana had cried day and night before her sale, begging her father instead to go to school to become a doctor.
The horrific deal drew international outrage with all 24 female senators in the US pushing President Joe Biden to take action to prevent child marriages in Afghanistan.
A US-based charity, Too Young to Wed, helped free the girl from the barbaric arrangement and her siblings and mother were moved from their camp to a safe house in Herat – the first time they had even been in a real home after living in tents.
Qorban was also forced into hiding after a backlash among his own community.
Parwana’s father has admitted he has faced heavy criticism and was forced to change his story to locals in a bid to save his reputation.
The nine-year-old was returned to her family two weeks after the sale but the £1,600 debt is still owed to Qorban.
The non-profit’s founder Stephanie Sinclair told CNN: ‘This is a temporary solution. Really what we’re trying to do is prevent girls being sold into marriage.’
After her rescue, Parwana said: ‘I am really happy. They rid me from my husband and my husband is old.’
Parwana’s mother Reza Gul said she tried to stop the sale but her husband insisted.
She said: ‘Of course, I was angry, I fought him, and I cried. He said that he didn’t have any option.’
The family will stay in the safe house throughout winter and be supported by the charity.
Marriage under the age of 15 is illegal worldwide but is commonly practised in many parts of the world, particularly in rural Afghanistan.
The situation has become much worse since August when the Taliban seized power, with families driven to desperation.
Parwana’s buyer Qorban said at the time of his deal it was his ‘second marriage’ and insisted he would treat her well.
Parwana and her family had been living in an Afghan displacement camp in northwestern Badghis province for the past four years. They have survived on humanitarian aid and work which earns them around £2 a day.
But since the Taliban took over Afghanistan in August, the country’s economy is on the brink of collapse and international humanitarian aid has been put on hold – and the effects are deeply felt by families such as Parwana’s who cannot buy basic goods such as food.
Abdul was forced to sell Parwana’s 12-year-old sister months ago to help his family survive.
Parwana, her small face peeping out from her pale pink hijab, told CNN previously: ‘My father has sold me because we don’t have bread, rice or flour. He has sold me to an old man.’
Her father Abdul said he was ‘broken’ with guilt at the sale of his daughter and was unable to sleep at night.
He said he had searched for unsuccessfully for work and borrowed money from relatives – with his wife even begging other camp residents for food – but nothing worked.
Abdul, who felt he had no choice but to sell Parwana to help his family survive, said: ‘We are eight family members. I have to sell to keep other family members alive.’
A weeping Abdul told Qorban at the handover: ‘This is your bride. Please take care of her. You are responsible for her now, please don’t beat her.’
Qorban agreed before grabbing Parwana’s arm and led the small child towards the door, with her father watching on.
As they reached the door, Parwana struggled and dug her feet into the ground – but her efforts were futile as she was led away to a car and to her new home.
Qorban insisted he would look after Parwana as his child and said he had a wife already.
‘[Parwana] was cheap, and her father was very poor and he needs money,’ he told CNN. ‘She will be working in my home. I won’t beat her. I will treat her like a family member. I will be kind.’
But Abdul said he has no power over what happens to his daughter now and recalled: ‘The old man told me, ‘I’m paying for the girl. It’s none of your business what I’m doing with her, that’s my business’.’
He added: ‘As I can see, we don’t have a future – our future is destroyed. I will have to sell another daughter if my financial situation doesn’t improve – probably the two-year-old.’
Another child being forced into marriage is Magul, a 10-year-old girl, who is being sold to a 70-year-old man to help pay off her family’s debts of 200,000 Afghanis (£1,600).
‘I really don’t want him,’ Magul said as she wiped tears away. ‘If they make me go, I will kill myself. I don’t want to leave my parents.’
The buyer, who has not been named by CNN, has taken Magul’s father, Ibrahim, to Taliban-run prison and threatened to send him to jail for not repaying the money.
Ibrahim, who said he would pay the money within a month, has run out of time.
He said: ‘I don’t know what to do. Even if I don’t give him my daughters, he will take them.’
Gul Afroz, Magul’s mother, said: ‘I’m praying to God these bad days pass.’
Another nine-member family in Ghor province are selling their four-year-old and nine-year-old daughters as their disabled father is unable to work.
He told CNN he will sell the girls for 10,000 Afghanis (£800) each.
Zaiton, the four-year-old daughter, said she understands why she must be sold.
‘Because we are a poor family and we don’t have food to eat.’
The girls’ grandmother Rokshana is distraught and said: ‘If we have food and there is someone to help us, we would never do this. We don’t have any choice.’
Since the Taliban took over Afghanistan in August, the country’s economy is on the brink of collapse.