Last year Taj Mohammad fled the fighting in Helmand Province with his family, which included his wife and nine children. During that year his wife became ill and he struggled to find food for his family and even to keep them warm at night as wood prices sky rocketed. When his wife got sick in a refugee camp near Kabul, he borrowed $2,500 from a local family to help pay for her medical care as well as buy some necessities for his children… one of whom, his three year old son, had frozen to death during a particularly cold night.
Mr. Mohammad had agreed on terms to pay the money back after one year, however when the bill came due and his situation had not changed, he was forced to tell his debtors that he could not pay. Mr. Mohammad then went to face a “Jirga”, which is a local tribal council. It is an unofficial village governing body which operates outside the control of the formal government. Its decisions are considered final for those involved and are enforced through sometimes violent and brutal measures.
During the Jirga, it was decided that if Mr. Mohammad could not pay the debt, he would have to offer his six year old daughter as payment. The child would then be married to the seventeen year old son of his creditor. With the terms agreed upon Mr. Mohammad left the Jirga in dismay worried that his daughter would be mistreated saying, “If God forbid, they mistreat my daughter, then I would have to kill someone in their family… you know she is very little, we call her Peshaka.” The realization that his daughter would be treated more like a servant or slave to the family rather than a wife left Mr. Mohammad and his wife heartbroken.
After hearing this story, an American donor offered to pay the debt in full, but insisted on remaining anonymous. The donation was made with the help of Kimberley Motley, an American lawyer who helped to ensure the payment went to the correct people and was considered legal by the Jirga system. Technically, if the creditor family so chooses, they could hold another Jirga insisting that the marriage take place. However it does appear at this time that all sides are satisfied with the outcome.