Afghanistan: stories of survival and hope
Gulsoom* is wearing a beautiful black cotton scarf embroidered with tiny gold tassels.
Whenever she comes to a difficult part in her story, she looks down at the scarf and smoothes the tassels, over and over.
“I was married when I was a child,” she says, “I remember that my first baby tooth had just fallen out.”
Gulsoom says she wants to share her story so that it can help to create change in her country.
When her new husband tried to sleep with her for the first time, Gulsoom was terrified and started screaming. So he beat her.
“It was really hard for me,” she says quietly. “I didn’t know what happens between a husband and a wife.”
“He beat me with wire inside his house, in the basement after closing every door and window, because he didn’t want his neighbours to see what he was doing to me.”
“I have lost everything”
It was her father who gave Gulsoom away in marriage. She was so young at the time she isn’t sure what his reasons were, but she thinks that he was trying to protect her.
“Maybe he thought an older man would be able to take care of me. But he was wrong.”
Instead, she was made to sleep and eat with the dogs – treated as less than human.
As a result of the shock and violence she experienced, she lost her ability to walk for two years.
“I have lost everything because of early marriage,” she says, “I have lost my childhood. I have lost my chance for an education.”
“Violence has become a habit”
The following week I meet Sayeeda, another young Afghan woman, a teacher, who has been taking part in Save the Children’s training on Children’s Rights.
“In this country, violence has become a habit,” she says.
“Abuse towards children in our society can take different forms. It can be forcing them to work selling things, or bringing bush down from the mountains.
“It could be sexual abuse, or selling them in the name of marriage.”
Child protection must be a priority
Sayeeda has shared what she has learned with her mother, who has now stopped using physical punishment with her two younger sisters.
“My mother is now telling her friends and I can see the learning spreading,” she tells me. “Already I see big changes in our small village.”
But to safeguard the future of Afghanistan’s children, we need change at both a community and a national level. Child protection needs to be a political priority and the social work system urgently needs further investment.
Gulsoom is safe now; but across the country vulnerable children remain at risk. We must ensure their story is different from hers.
*Name changed to protect identity