Desperation drives Afghan dad to sell baby
A Afghan baby girl, sold by her father who was desperate to feed his family and keep them warm, is held by an older sister after being returned to the family in Parwan province, Dec. 2012. / CBS
KABUL It was a choice of unimaginable desperation. Unable to make ends meet, a man from the Afghan province of Parwan, a short distance from the capital Kabul, decided to sell his three month old daughter.
The sale of the baby raised a mere $140. The mother, who does not wish to be named, was unaware of the deal until it was done, leaving her utterly distraught when she found her child gone. Her daughter had still been breastfeeding.
But despite her distress, the mother understood why her husband felt pressured into taking the drastic measure. "We had nothing to eat, no means to heat our home and we hadn't paid the rent in four months," she told CBS News.
Shocked by the family's plight, members of the local community clubbed together to buy the baby back and return her, to the mother's immense relief. But her worries aren't over yet.
The baby's father disappeared briefly after the incident, but was admitted to a Kabul hospital where his wife said he was being treated Thursday for unspecified mental health issues. She said the stress of poverty had led him to become mentally unstable before he sold their daughter.
Child trafficking is illegal in Afghanistan and, if prosecuted, the man could face a jail sentence. There have been no indications from law enforcement officials thus far, however, to suggest they plan to arrest the man. The Afghan Interior Ministry would not comment on the case Thursday.
Save the Children, an international children's charity operating in the country, says although there are no firm statistics, such cases are thought to be widespread in Afghanistan.
"Poverty is the underlying cause," Christine Roehrs, Save the Children's spokeswoman in Afghanistan, told CBS News. "It's basically parents who do not have enough money to buy enough food, to buy enough wood for the fire, to buy enough medication to keep all of their children alive, and then they're faced with a terrible decision to give one child away. I think for many parents who do this, they don't see any other option. They don't have the means to improve their living situation."
U.S. military reach out to Afghan families through "Operation Outreach"
At this time of year, during Afghanistan's harsh winter, the pressure on poor families increases.
"These cases occur more often in winter when the living conditions are even worse," says Roehrs. "It's cold, children become sick, job opportunities and wages drop and there is even less food. It's a very hard decision and they do it because they're just desperate."'
Along with other organizations, Save the Children has established child protection networks in remote areas of Afghanistan, where poverty levels are highest. The idea is to improve local monitoring of families who potentially cannot afford to support their children and offer help before they resort to such extreme measures.
The charity has been able to intervene in a previous case by helping return a child to its family and continuing to support the parents, to try and prevent the situation arising again. It was a similar story -- a father sold his sick baby son to a couple who could not have children of their own, because he could not afford to care for him.
But not all cases of child trafficking come to the attention of local authorities, or charities.
"It is something families would keep secret," explains Roehrs. "It's not an official business, it's done between two families and if it's consensual then no-one would raise a complaint about it, and these kinds of cases happen in parts of the country where poverty is worse and also where official monitoring systems are weaker."
Life is hard for children in Afghanistan, and many do not survive their early years. Save the Children says a shocking 287 children die every day in the war-torn nation -- although that represents an approximate 50 percent decrease in estimates before a substantial amount of foreign aid starting flowing into the country just over a decade ago.
For the mother in Parwan, who was lucky enough to get her infant back after a matter of days, the struggle for survival isn't over. The family must still find a way to support six children -- possibly with the added challenge of having no father at home to provide income.
Popular on CBSNews.com
- Iran hangs alleged U.S., Israeli spies
- Russia shows accused U.S. spy heading home
- North Korea fires short-range missiles for second day
- N. Korea fires 6th projectile into sea
- Photos of the Week 21 Photos
- Two imprisoned over killing Malcolm X's grandson
- Plane catches fire on Moscow runway Play Video
- Russia strikes back after expelling alleged U.S. spy