Baby-Selling in Afghanistan

Abdul Khaleq and Bibikhal with their children.

Most Afghan families have many children, too many, in fact, for some. On the other hand, there are childless couples for whom adoption is the only choice. In Afghanistan, this often means buying a baby from a poor family.

In the Tasadi refugee camp on the outskirts of Mazar-e-Sharif in January 2002, I met an old man whose tragedy is hard to describe. After several years of miserable life in the camp, Said Ali, 60, insisted his son and his wife, also displaced by the war, sell their youngest baby to a wealthy family in the city. The “rich” couple offered to pay 20 U.S. dollars, the maximum they could afford. The old man wanted at least thirty, just enough to allow the family with one more child to live through the winter.

The prospective buyers refused, and the baby died of cold and starvation shortly afterwards. The old man’s son went berserk, and camp residents had to tie him to a pole and keep him restrained for several days to calm down. In the photo above, Said Ali sits in a makeshift tent with the other grandson, Mohammad Hussain, who survived the cold period.

There were many heart-breaking stories like that in the war-torn Afghanistan. There were also stories with a happier ending.

In a small town in Jowzjan Province, there lived a family of local government officials who had two girls, but desperately wanted to have a son and heir. Not that he would inherit a fortune, but it is very important in Afghanistan to have at least one son, not just daughters. The woman, Hafiza Bashardost, was unable to have any more children for medical reasons, and she and her husband decided to adopt a son. They got in touch with another family. Abdul Khaleq and his wife Bibikhal lived in an abandoned one-room house without windows. They had three small kids and a teenage son already when Bibikhal gave birth to one more child. The husband’s income – he delivered drinking water around the town – was not enough for all of them to survive, so they agreed to sell their newborn baby for a million Afghanis, or about twenty-five dollars at that month’s exchange rate.

I visited both families, and none of the parents seemed to have any regrets. “We had to sell our sweet baby so that our other children could live,” said Abdul Khaleq. Asked if he would sell other babies that his wife might have, he answered in the negative, though.

In the new family, Hafiza said they will try to bring into the world a good and decent man because they had enough resources and love for their new son.

Abdul Khaleq and Bibikhal say they don’t regret selling their newborn baby to another family because the money helped the other children survive. Jowzjan Province, February 2002.