Afghan women working in a poppy field. (Courtesy Reuters)
In the dusty village of Ghurian on Afghanistan's arid western border, Touraj* had made his life as a shepherd, but in the late 1990s, when a drought brought that livelihood to an end, he became a middleman in the country's lucrative drug business. Touraj's primary job was to hire couriers to carry drugs across the border into Iran. At first, the risk paid off -- he was able to build a two-story house and buy gold jewelry for his wife. For himself, he purchased a motorcycle and a Rado watch. Feeling flush, he even took a girl from the city on as a second wife.
But more recently, after a few deals went bad, Touraj fell into $10,000 worth of debt to smugglers from Helmand Province, the frontline of the NATO counterinsurgency campaign. He was jailed. To buy back his freedom and save the rest of his family, he would sell two of his daughters.
He bartered Darya, 12, and her 14-year-old sister, Saboora, as brides to opium smugglers. The girls were wed without their consent in Helmand -- Touraj and the smugglers performed the Islamic nikah ceremony, which pronounces a man and woman as husband and wife. As it turned out, Saboora escaped her newfound fate: Her husband never showed up to collect. He was presumably killed while on his way; Saboora remained with her family.
Darya's husband, however, did turn up to claim his new bride. Haji Tor was 34 years her elder and had another wife and eight children. He spoke Pashto; she only spoke Dari. For two years, Darya refused to go with him. He was lenient enough to let her stay with her family, although he routinely visited to try to convince her to come with him to Helmand. In 2003, I was in the village researching my book Opium Nation, and after I met Darya, she pleaded for me to somehow free her.
Over the last ten years, such stories