Tribal customs, culture, and religion are often inextricably linked, and such is the case here:
Taj Mohammad, a resident of an Afghan refugee camp, where he lives with his wife and eight children, says his six-year-old daughter Naghma is collateral for a loan.
If, as seems likely, Mr. Mohammad cannot repay his debt to a fellow camp resident a year from now, his daughter, a smiling, slender child with a tiny gold stud in her nose, will be forced to leave her family’s home forever — to be married to the lender’s 17-year-old son. …
Because Naghma, whose name means melody, was not chosen by the groom, she will most likely be treated more like a family servant than a spouse — and at worst as a captive slave. Her presence may help the groom attract a more desirable second wife because the family, although poor, will have someone working for it, insulating the chosen wife from some of the hardest tasks.
Taj Mohammad and his wife do not want their daughter to leave them.
“We call her ‘Peshaka,’ ” he said, using the Pashto word for kitten. “She is a very lovely girl. Everybody in our family loves her, and even if she fights with her older brothers, we don’t say anything, we give her all possible happiness.”
He added: “I believe that when she goes to that house, she will die soon. She will not receive all the love she receives from us, and I am afraid she will lose her life. A 6-year-old girl doesn’t know about having a mother-in-law, a father-in-law, or having a husband or being a wife.”
Perhaps Naghma can stay with her own family after all: The day the Times published the story, a group led by an American lawyer offered to pay Taj Mohammad’s debt. That’s wonderful — a story of rescue and redemption, a Disney movie in the making. I’m genuinely happy for Naghma. But, as one Times commenter pointed out,
When Westerners intervene with money to buy slaves, all it does is create a new industry — the taking of slaves specifically to be redeemed with Western donations. This is why some governments forbid or refuse to pay ransoms for hostages or captured soldiers. Once outside money enters the picture, the game is on. Like most readers. I am disgusted, horrified and saddened by this story, but what monster will we create by interfering?
I don’t have the answers either. Religion plays a villainous role in this cultural clusterfuck, but that’s nothing new.
Let’s just affirm that Naghma got another chance at a decent life; surely, that’s worth a muted celebration. One down, millions of Muslim girls to go.