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Desperate Afghan mother forced to give up one twin to feed the other as hunger crisis worsens

10 December, Kabul – An Afghan mother has been forced to give up one of her twins as Afghanistan’s food crisis becomes so dire that an increasing number of families are being driven to desperate measures to be able to feed their children, Save the Children said.

Bibi*, 40, gave birth to twins – a boy and a girl – a few months ago. But Bibi* and her husband, Mohammad*, 45, decided they had no choice but to give one of them up as they did not have enough money to feed their now eight children. They gave the child to a childless couple.

We have nothing, so how could I take care of them (both)?” said Bibi*. “I suffered from having to split them up. It was a very difficult [decision], more than you could imagine. It was especially difficult to give the baby away because of poverty.

The heartbreaking story was uncovered by Save the Children staff in Afghanistan, and is the latest reported incident of poverty-stricken parents being forced to abandon their children.

More than 97% of Afghans are predicted to sink below the poverty line by mid-next year. The country is facing its worst food crisis on record, and an increasing number of families, like Bibi’s*, are being pushed to make desperate, life-altering decisions in order to survive.

Bibi* explained that she intended to give her baby away without seeking any payment for the child. In the end, they received a small sum of money in exchange for the baby.

I couldn’t afford milk, food, or medicine. With that money, I could buy food for half a year,” she said.

The family was displaced from their farm about seven months ago due to prolonged drought, which has devastated crops and pushed millions to the brink of famine. It has been extremely difficult for Mohammad* to find work for even a couple of days a week. When he does, a full day’s wage does not even cover two days of expenses for his family.

In order to supplement the family’s income, their son, Hamdast*, 12, works in the local market pushing carts that carry people’s personal belongings.

We need help, we are hungry and poor,” said Mohammad*. “There are no work opportunities in Afghanistan. We have children. We need flour and oil the most, which we don’t have. It’s also good to have firewood. I could not afford to buy meat in the last two or three months. We only have bread for the children which is not always available.”

Stories like these are becoming all too common in Afghanistan. Save the Children learned of a second case of a distressed mother of twins, Fatima*, who came under pressure from her family to leave one of her babies who was malnourished because of poverty.

Fatima’s* 18-month-old twins, Ara* and Milad*, are both unwell and weak. With the weather getting colder and Ara* suffering from severe malnutrition, Fatima* explained she can’t afford to care for her children as a single parent, but she did not want to give Ara* away.

My son and my daughter cried all last night because they were hungry. We have nothing in my house. We have no food, no flour, we have nothing,” said Fatima*. “My husband doesn’t send us money. (He says) ‘let her die’. Everyone was telling me, ‘We will buy her’, but I didn’t give her up. I have lots of hope for my children to be healthy in the future.”

Almost 14 million children will not know where their next meal will come from this winter, putting millions of young lives at risk as the country faces its worst-ever food crisis on record.

Millions of children are at risk of illness or even death because they don’t have enough to eat, Save the Children warned, with an estimated 3.2 million children under the age of five expected to suffer from acute malnutrition by the end of the year.

Nora Hassanien, acting Country Director in Afghanistan said:

“It is absolutely heartbreaking that some Afghan families are being pushed to such extreme, desperate measures in order to survive and feed their other children. No parent should ever have to make the impossible decision to give up a child.

“Millions of children in Afghanistan, who have already lived their entire lives through war, are now being pushed to the brink of starvation. As temperatures drop to well below freezing, thousands of families will not be able to afford fuel to keep warm this winter, putting children at risk of illness or even death.

“Time is running out to get children the life-saving help they need to survive the winter. And aid efforts are being hampered by sanctions and counter terror policies, which prevent aid from getting to the families who desperately need it.”

Save the Children is calling for governments to make urgent exemptions to existing counterterror and sanctions policies, to allow for the swift and uninterrupted delivery of lifesaving humanitarian aid.

As president of the G7, the UK has a unique power and responsibility to lead global efforts to avert a humanitarian catastrophe. When the Foreign Secretary welcomes her counterparts to Liverpool this weekend, Afghanistan must be at the top of the agenda. Unless the international community steps up, millions of lives could be lost to hunger this winter – many of them children.

Save the Children is providing families like Bibi* and Fatima’s* with urgent food, infant and young child feeding training, hygiene kits, blankets and warm clothes to help them get through the bitter winter.


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Our media out of hours (BST) contact is media@savethechildren.org.uk / +44(0)7831 650409