Starving Afghan kids sold, forced into labor amid dire economic and humanitarian crises

Ever since the withdrawal of the U.S. and its allies, and the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, the global community cut off non-humanitarian aid, froze assets abroad and imposed sanctions on the new government. Add to that crippling drought and harsh winter, Afghans are now going to desperate lengths to keep themselves and their family alive. John Ray of Independent Television News reports.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Winter in Afghanistan is never easy, but this is the first since the withdrawal of the U.S. and its allies and the Taliban takeover.

    In response, the international community cut off non-humanitarian — excuse me — non-humanitarian aid, froze Afghanistan's assets abroad and imposed sanctions on the new government.

    All those factors, plus crippling drought, and already fragile institutions have led to an economic and humanitarian crisis.

    As John Ray of Independent Television News reports, Afghans are going to desperate lengths to keep themselves and their family members alive.

  • John Ray:

    Kabul is no place to be young in this bleak midwinter. There is snow on the mountains, a chill in every heart, and only the coldest comfort for a family of six children.

    The oldest is 14, the youngest just 1. Their father is dead. They are destitute. And their mother is desperate. We first found her at the local market, her children laid out like goods for sale, begging strangers for help, but help, there is none.

    So, for a few pennies, they polish shoes. It does not earn them any kind of living, not even enough to buy bread. They have barely a roof over their heads. Their stove is stone-cold, and the baby is sick with fever.

    "I'm desperate. We're beaten," she says. "There is no more we can do. Oh, God, I have nothing."

    When the Taliban arrived, much Western funding vanished as quickly as U.S. troops. Today's boots on the ground belong to the army of urban poor. The economy has collapsed. There is no work and little relief.

    "In this place, we have no money, no doctor, not even a piece of bread," says Tawoos Khan. "Most of the children you see here, they are orphans. Their fathers have been killed in the war."

    But now, we will discover, peace brings no respite. A child appears at the door. Her father makes us an astonishing offer.

    He wants to sell?

  • Man:

    If there is anybody to buy, so I'm ready to sell it.

  • John Ray:

    It sounds callous, but it is more a measure of Sahib Khan's misery, an educated man, once a schoolteacher, better times now gone.

  • Sahib Khan, Schoolteacher (through translator):

    The Taliban say we have peace, but what good is peace when our children are sick and I have debt collectors at my door?

  • John Ray:

    If you sell your daughter, what will happen to her?

  • Sahib Khan (through translator):

    There is nothing else I can do. I am not able to care for her.

  • John Ray:

    Life has never been easy here. But now it is harder than ever.

    To the people here, all these children, it doesn't matter that the Americans have gone and that the Taliban have come back. What does matter is that they just don't have enough to eat, and that it feels that they are being forced, slowly, but inevitably, towards starvation.

    They work miracles at the children's hospital. They need to for babies like Hasibula, whose survival seems against all odds. Amina fights for breath, her malnourished body unable to fight off infection. Her mother tells us she will stay at her bedside until God decides her daughter's fate.

    For week after week, staff worked without pay. They still lack medicine and equipment. And, sometimes, even miracles won't do.

  • Dr. Mohammed Sadiq, Indira Gandhi Children’s Hospital:

    We have — in the previous months, mortality was about 200.

  • John Ray:

    Two hundred children?

  • Dr. Mohammed Sadiq:

    Two hundred children was — died in here.

  • John Ray:

    But underlying it always is hunger…

  • Dr. Mohammed Sadiq:

    Yes, hunger.

  • John Ray:

    … is just hunger.

    And women who are pregnant and hungry give birth prematurely. So, it is two to an incubator. A baby has stopped breathing. His name is Muhammed Anwar. For an agonizing moment, his life hangs in the balance. But this fight ends in victory.

  • Dr. Mohammed Nasser, Indira Gandhi Children’s Hospital:

    He got a new life after resuscitation.

  • John Ray:

    Yet, sometimes, there is as much grief as joy. This newborn is called Sabar. His twin brother has already died. And his own span in this unhappy land will be measured in days. His mother has been warned they do not have the drugs to save him.

  • Dr. Mohammed Nasser:

    Whole weekend, it is very bad for us. We are hopeless for them.

  • John Ray:

    Four decades of fighting has ended, but yet another generation seems born to suffer.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    There's just no words. Very, very hard to watch.

    That was John Ray of Independent Television News.

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