Marco Werman talks with Reporter Najibullah Quraishi of our partner program FRONTLINE about his report on the growing problem in Afghanistan of young girls who are kidnapped or traded to drug smugglers when opium farmers cannot meet their debts.
About FRONTLINE’s Opium Brides:
Afghanistan produces most of the world’s opium, fueling the global heroin trade, funding terrorist groups like the Taliban and bringing billions of dollars a year into the country’s economy. But the illegal harvest and government eradication efforts are also creating hidden victims: young Afghan girls who are kidnapped or traded to smugglers to meet the debts of impoverished opium farmers.
In Opium Brides, airing Tuesday, January 3, 2012, award-winning Afghan journalist Najibullah Quraishi takes viewers deep into the remote Afghan countryside to reveal the deadly bargain local farm families have been forced to make with drug smugglers in order to survive. Through interviews with local villagers, Quraishi learns that drug smugglers have been paying local farmers to grow opium, which the smugglers then use to produce heroin. Now that the government has been destroying the farmers’ opium crops through the eradication program, the drug smugglers are returning and giving farmers a choice: Pay back the money, or give them one of the family’s young daughters as a “bride.” For most of the impoverished farmers, that leaves only one choice.
“The government came and destroyed the opium fields,” a local farmer named Sharif tells FRONTLINE. “The smugglers came after us to get their money back. We didn’t have any money. I had a girl. She was 8 years old. They took her with them – we don’t know where.”
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Marco Werman: The war in Afghanistan was supposed to do more than defeat al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Another objective was to improve the lives of women and girls in the country. Much remains to be done on that front. In some parts of today’s Afghanistan young women are being traded as collateral property in the drug trade. Reporter Najibullah Quraishi of our partner program FRONTLINE recently braved Taliban controlled territory to document this practice. His report, Opium Brides airs tonight on PBS.
Najibullah Quraishi: Opium Brides is about how the government’s program to destroy poppy crops is forcing many Afghan farmers into the hands of drug traffickers who have close relationships with the Taliban. So they have to borrow money from the traffickers to claim poppies, and when the government came and destroyed the crops they have no money. And because they are unpaid they have only one choice to give their daughters to the traffickers.
Werman: I’d like us to hear a clip from your film, Najibullah, to give a sense of the human cost here. This is a woman, we can’t identify her for safety reasons, she saw her husband taken by the smugglers after he couldn’t repay them for these opium crop debts.
Afghanistan Woman/Interpreter: [speaking Arabic] The have given me two months. If I don’t find the money by then I will have to give them my daughter to free my husband. It is the only way I can afford releasing him.
Werman: Najibullah Quraish, how common is this sort of thing in Afghanistan today?
Quraishi: When I heard her story I was shocked because this is not that common in Afghanistan in the past, but as she said, her husband borrowed money because he had to feed his family, his children. And finally when the government destroyed his poppy he had no choice to go with traffickers and now they’re asking for his daughter.
Werman: What happens to these young girls?
Quraishi: They are only 9, 10, 11 or 12 years old, and they’re used for manufacturing heroine.
Quraishi: Heroin, or immediately married to traffickers, or sold to men in other countries like Iran. They have told me that they are beaten, sometimes even tortured into doing what they are told.
Werman: I mean the smugglers are clearly breaking the law, but would this problem exist if the government of Afghanistan was not trying to eradicate poppy production?
Quraishi: If they not hold the eradication policy then the farmers, they will not have problem to handle their daughters. They will give their poppies to the traffickers.
Werman: How many girls are affected by this, do you know?
Quraishi: In this case I discovered about 5-6 cases, but some [inaudible 2:51] I spoke with, which they work for the government but they [don't] want to come on the camera, they say especially, a lady, she’s [inaudible 2:59] in eastern region, she said she herself went their met hundreds of girls in those villages.
Werman: Are the smugglers at all scared of the government?
Quraishi: No, never, they’re very powerful and stronger than Taliban and the government as the farmers describe.
Werman: And is there any prospect of any change that would help these young girls?
Quraishi: Yes, if they gave up to control Afghanistan border and also if they bring some forces around those regions. And also if western countries or the countries Afghanistan gets help from, if those countries put some pressure on Afghan government on these specific cases, then might be some changes.
Werman: Najibullah Quraishi is a reporter for FRONTLINE. His report Opium Brides airs tonight. Thank you very much, Najibullah.
Quraishi: Thank you so much.
Werman: There is more of our work with FRONTLINE plus video clips from Opium Brides, we’ve got the trailer and more at theworld.org.
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