Hungry, isolated and depressed: How Afghan girls are bearing the brunt of the country's deteriorating situation
“Some days my father cannot bring food. My brothers wake up at midnight and cry for food," begins Parishad*. "I don’t eat, and I save my food for my brothers and sisters."
The 15-year-old who lives in northern Afghanistan doesn’t go to school because her parents cannot afford to feed their children, let alone pay for her books and stationery.
"When my brothers and sisters ask for food, I get upset and cry a lot. I go to my neighbour’s house and ask for food. Sometimes they’ll help and give me food and sometimes they say they don’t have anything to give me,” Parishad adds.
26% of girls are showing signs of depression compared with 16% of boys, and 27% of girls are showing signs of anxiety compared with 18% of boys
Her story is one that is similar to thousands of young Aghan girls whose lives have been shattered and disrupted one year since the Taliban took control of Afghanistan. With an economic crisis, crippling drought and new restrictions excluding them from society and leaving them hungry, a quarter of them are showing signs of depression, according to a new report by Save the Children.
The report, titled Breaking point: Life for Children One Year Since The Taliban Takeover, shows that 97% of families are struggling to provide enough food for their children and that girls are eating less than boys. Furthermore, almost 80% of children said they had gone to bed hungry in the past 30 days, with girls twice as likely as boys to frequently go to bed hungry.
A lack of food is having devastating consequences on children’s health and threatening their future. Nine in 10 girls said their meals had reduced in the past year and that they worry because they’re losing weight and have no energy to study, play and work.
The crisis is also taking a dangerous toll on girls’ mental and psychosocial well-being.
According to interviews with their caregivers, 26% of girls are showing signs of depression compared with 16% of boys, and 27% of girls are showing signs of anxiety compared with 18% of boys.
Girls in focus groups said they had trouble sleeping at night because they were worried and have bad dreams. They also said they had been excluded from many of the activities that previously made them happy, such as spending time with relatives and friends and going to parks and shops.
After the Taliban’s takeover last August, thousands of secondary school girls were ordered to stay home, reversing years of progress for gender equality.
Girls interviewed by Save the Children expressed disappointment and anger over the fact they can no longer go to school and said they felt hopeless about their future because they don’t have the rights and freedoms they had previously.
More than 45% of girls said they’re not attending school – compared with 20% of boys – listing economic challenges, the Taliban’s ban on girls attending secondary school classes as well as community attitudes as the key barriers preventing them from accessing education.
"Some days my father cannot bring food. My brothers wake up at midnight and cry for food. I don’t eat, and I save my food for my brothers and sisters"
Parishad's family’s situation has deteriorated rapidly in the past 12 months and they were evicted from their home because they couldn’t pay the rent. The landlord offered to buy one of Parishad’s siblings, but her parents refused.
“When we left our old house to come to this house, I was deeply upset and I said, ‘why are we leaving again, why are we facing these problems again?’ I was deeply angry, and it was a very difficult time and I cried," Parishad said.
“I would love to go to school. When I see other girls going to school, I wish I could go to school too. Every month we change houses and it’s difficult for us to go to school. We also don’t have any stationery and we need money to buy books. I can’t tolerate it. I can’t do anything about it.”
Following the withdrawal of international forces last year, the Taliban took power on 15 August. Billions of dollars in international aid were withdrawn, Afghanistan’s foreign currency reserves were frozen and the banking system collapsed. The subsequent economic crisis and the country’s worst drought in 30 years have plunged households into poverty.
The economic situation was driving an increase in child marriages in their communities, and this was impacting girls more than boys. Out of the children who said they’d been asked to marry to improve their family’s financial situation in the past year, 88% were girls.
Chris Nyamandi, Save the Children Country Director in Afghanistan, said: “Life is dire for children in Afghanistan, one year since the Taliban took control. Children are going to bed hungry night after night. They’re exhausted and wasting away, unable to play and study like they used to. They’re spending their days toiling in brick factories, collecting rubbish and cleaning homes instead of going to school.
“Girls are bearing the brunt of the deteriorating situation. They’re missing more meals, suffering from isolation and emotional distress and are staying home while boys go to school. This is a humanitarian crisis, but also a child rights catastrophe."
*Names changed to protect identities