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Taliban’s fall does little for Zarghona

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The Sydney Morning Herald
Paul McGeough
Chief Herald Correspondent in Kabul
November 22, 2008

THE sadness of the widow Zarghona’s Afghan story is its utter ordinariness. At the age of 30, she spends her days in a tiny, smoke-blackened shed, sitting cross-legged by a deep hole in which she bakes bread.

The smoke makes her eyes stream but Zarghona does not move. Swivelling from the hips, she leans to her left to grasp a ball of dough. Flattening and stretching it, she damps it with a splash of water before she drops forward to slap it to the side of the clay oven.

She wears a scarf, tied tight on her head. Two other women sit beneath their burkas – one black, the other blue – enjoying the warmth of the fire as they chat with the baker.

Zarghona knows exactly when the bread is cooked, hooking it from the oven with a length of wire. With the same expertise she keeps the fire just right, feeding it from a pile of kindling. When customers poke their heads into her smoke-filled space, she swivels to the right, swapping a loaf for the princely sum of four Afghanis – about 14 cents.

As a widow she has to work to survive – but it is lean pickings.

After paying rent for the shed and buying wood and ingredients, her little bakery clears about 1000 Afghanis, $34, a month. On a good day she sells 30 to 40 loaves.

Zarghona raises a smile but, given her circumstances, it seems almost rude to ask if her life in the new Afghanistan has improved. “Nothing has changed for me since the fall of the Taliban,” she says. “Except that my husband died of an illness two years ago.

“My children are still hungry and now that the nights are cold, I have to borrow quilts from neighbours for my girls.”

But at least in the new Afghanistan her girls can go to school to prepare them for a better life?

“No. They are aged eight and three. The eight-year-old must stay home to look after the three-year-old while I bake bread.”

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November 24, 2008 at 3:35 am

Posted in Poverty, Women's Rights

Afghanistan’s dying mothers

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By Carol Mann
First Published: October 31, 2008
 
KABUL: Today in Badakhshan, Afghanistan, for every 100,000 births, 6,500 young mothers die. This is a world record, unrivaled anywhere. In other parts of Afghanistan, too, the rates of maternal mortality continue to be among the highest in the world.
 
Roughly 75% of Afghan newborns that die do so because of lack of food, warmth, and care. Unloved little girls fare the worst. In Afghanistan as a whole, a woman dies of pregnancy-related causes every 27 minutes – and perhaps even more frequently, because many such deaths go unrecorded. Many, perhaps most, are under sixteen years of age.
 
The Taliban – blamed nowadays for just about all of Afghanistan’s ills – have officially been gone for nearly seven years, so why are conditions still so abysmal?
 
In Kabul and Herat, mobile phones abound, a tooth-eroding concoction called “Afghan Cola” is sold, the Internet works (sometimes), there are ATM machines, sophisticated heroin laboratories, four-wheel drive vehicles, five-star hotels, ads for private banks – all the trappings of globalized modernity. Yet so many women die like flies, in pools of blood and deep-rooted indifference.
 
While billions of dollars in aid have led to improvements in urban areas, where health facilities have been built and midwives trained, the overall maternal death figures have hardly changed. As one doctor told me: “A competent midwife or nurse would rather be out of work in Kabul than stuck in a remote village.” But most Afghans live in remote villages – those in Badakhshan can be reached only after a day’s bumpy ride on a donkey.
 
This miserable situation has been attributed to various causes, mainly lack of infrastructure and local economic conditions. But cultural questions must also be addressed, because gender discrimination is the most important cause of maternal mortality.
 
In Afghan society, discrimination begins at birth. One obvious reason is that a boy is destined to support his parents and much of his family all his life, and therefore represents a long-term investment, whereas a girl will be given over to her husband’s family as soon as possible. Feeding a girl is seen as effectively looking after someone else’s property.
 
Once, I heard a dreadful story of a breech birth which a traditional midwife did not know how to handle. In the end, she wrenched the baby’s body out, severing it from its head, which remained inside the mother’s womb. It took six days to get the woman to a hospital in Jalalabad though it was not very far from where she lived. She somehow survived, with major health complications, including permanent fistula, which will condemn her to a life of exclusion from her family and unrelieved misery.
 
That tragedy can be read on many levels, each more heart-rending than the next. But note that it occurred near a health facility. As soon as the midwife saw that the baby was coming out feet forward, she must have known that there was little she could do to save either mother or baby. Even before that, she would have noticed that the child had not turned properly, and that major problems were on the way.
 
This means that someone – a husband or mother-in-law – had taken the decision not to send the young woman to the hospital, instead keeping her in inhuman suffering for nearly a week.
 
The solution is not just to build more hospitals, but also to change deep-rooted disdain for women. And, sadly, things have become worse in the past 30 years, as Afghanistan’s particular brand of Islam, combined with its legacy of dire poverty and war, compounds an already misogynist pre-Islamic tradition.
 
Maternal mortality is a sinister consequence of this complex situation. The legal system, schools, and the media could bring change, but no official entity takes the problem seriously enough to initiate effective action. The central reason is despairingly simple: women’s lives are not valued, and even women themselves perceive their suffering as being unavoidable.
 
What Afghanistan needs is an inquest after each death and laws making it a criminal offense to forbid access to medical aid, when available, to women and children (or, more correctly, to children and their children, given that girls are often married by age 14). Prisons, I fear, would be full of abusive husbands and, I regret to say, vengeful mothers-in-law. Health education through public media, reaching distant areas of the country, is an urgent priority, but has been utterly ignored in favor of commercial priorities.
 
Questioning culture is, of course, a politically incorrect approach. But we must refuse to bow before the altar of tolerance when it comes to what is truly unacceptable, wherever it occurs, and this is what the world is witnessing passively in Afghanistan.
 
Does diversity authorize such brutal deaths and senseless violence against women simply because some supposedly traditional practice allows them to be married before their bodies are ready and denies them health care when they give birth?
 
The fight against maternal mortality in Afghanistan must become a global priority. Ultimately, a society that allows women to be brutalized will remain a breeding ground of generalized violence.
 
Carol Mannis Director of FemAid and teaches at the Sorbonne in Paris. This commentary is published by DAILY NEWS EGYPT in collaboration with Project Syndicate (www.project-syndicate.org).
 

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November 1, 2008 at 3:37 am

Posted in Health, Women's Rights

The dangers of teaching girls in Afghanistan

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* Janet Swinney
* guardian.co.uk

For Jamila Niyazi, simply going to her office is a death-defying act. Jamila is principal of Lashkar Gah girls high school in Helmand province Afghanistan, and oversees the education of 7,000 pupils. She has already received the dreaded “night letters” which threaten her with death. These have been followed by disturbing phone calls.

In Afghanistan, threats to teachers and students are not to be taken lightly. The country’s education ministry calculates that in the year ended March 2008, nearly 150 students and teachers were killed, and around 100 schools burned down. The situation is most perilous in southern and eastern areas, where the Taliban are resurgent. But just last year, gunmen riding a motorcycle fired on girls outside a school in Kabul, killing two and injuring six.

According to the United Nations, the country now has a record 5.7 million children in education, but only 35% of these are girls and the figure is not increasing. An estimated 1.2 million girls are missing out on schooling. In some provinces, girls’ enrolment may be as low as 1%. A third of state schools are reserved for boys, and there are not enough female teachers. In a country where the literacy rate for women aged 15–24 years is only 14%, compared with a rate of 51% for men in the same age group, this is a desperate situation.

“Educating a girl changes her destiny, as well as those of her future children,” says Ann Cotton, executive director of Camfed, “and it ensures that she that she can contribute to the economic life of her community.” Better educated women have healthier children, stand a better chance of surviving childbirth and can earn money for themselves and their families. In 2004 the World Bank found that a one-year increase in the schooling attainment of all adult females in a country is associated with an increase in GDP per capita of around US$700 per annum. It also found that education enables women to develop the skills and the confidence to become active in their communities and to participate in the political process.

All of this is a far cry from the reality of Afghan women. Most are not allowed to work outside the home. Traditionally, girls are married off in their early teens, and many die in childbirth. The infant mortality rate in 2006, though improving, was 135 per 1,000, which is the third worst in the world. An estimated 1,600 women die per 100,000 live births. In some parts of the country the rate is as high as 6,500 (whereas the average rate for other developing countries is 450 and, for developed, countries nine). The current food crisis is encouraging families to marry off their daughters as quickly as possible in exchange for a dowry. In May, a BBC reporter uncovered a case of a girl giving birth at the age of 10.

In many developing countries, poverty is the obstacle to girls’ participation in education. But many governments are working hard towards millennium targets by alleviating this barrier. They calculate that learning will pay dividends in the longer-term. For example, with the support of Unicef and the World Bank, many African nations are part of an initiative to engage the poor in learning by abolishing school fees, and are busy working through the resourcing and curriculum issues this raises. All kinds of imaginative approaches are being developed to place education within the reach of the poorest children, especially girls. The Indian government has undertaken to pay the costs for the first girl child in every poor family to attend primary school. Haryana state government provides free bicycles for girls who do not have a school within their own village. The ‘rider’ is that each girl must appear for the class VIII examination before she owns the bike in full. Village panchayats (councils) are offered financial incentives to achieve 100% female enrolment in school.

In Afghanistan however, girls face deeply entrenched cultural barriers to their participation in education, and a poor understanding of their human rights. International agencies have found that gender-based violence is endemic throughout society. Where adults are supportive of girls’ education they have fears for their safety if they venture outdoors.

Aid agencies continue their efforts to create safe environments in which girls and women can study, but the Taliban, now flexing their muscles again in large areas of the country, make it clear that anyone deemed to be colluding with “the infidel”, can expect the worst. “Collusion” in this case means being in receipt of income or support from a Western-backed government department or NGO, or benefiting from any of their services. This makes constructive help very difficult. How can the global community help girls and women who find themselves trapped inside this punitive situation? This is a question we have barely begun to ask, let alone to answer.

Ironically, women hold 25% of the seats in the country’s parliament – one of the highest percentages worldwide – guaranteed under the 2004 constitution. In the circumstances, it is hard to see how, beyond the short-term, women with appropriate knowledge and skills can arise from a female population with so few opportunities for learning.

The Karzai government is steadily losing its credibility with the population, and charges of corruption on a large scale abound, placing the Taliban, once again in a strong position. As Western military and economic resources are stretched, in diplomatic circles the talk is of negotiations with the opposition.

What form could such negotiations possibly take, and where will the rights of women and girls feature? The challenge is to help men of a fundamentalist Islamic persuasion see that the rights of women and girls are inextricably bound up with their own, and with the well-being of the nation as a whole. Otherwise, any millennium target will be a fond imagining. Does the West have negotiators with the necessary skills and insight for this task, and will any negotiating team actually include them?

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August 24, 2008 at 5:01 pm

AFGHANISTAN: Food prices fuelling sex work in north?

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Sex work is on the rise due to high food prices, unemployment and lack of economic opportunities for vulnerable women, women’s rights activists say
MAZAR-I-SHARRIF, 16 July 2008 (IRIN) – High food prices, drought, unemployment and lack of socio-economic opportunities are pushing some women and young girls in northern Afghanistan into commercial sex work, women’s rights activists and several affected women told IRIN.

“I have no way of feeding my children other than by doing this disgusting job,” said 27-year-old Nasima (not her real name), a commercial sex worker in Balkh Province.

Clad in a blue `burqa’, Najiba, a sex worker in Mazar-i-Sharrif, the provincial capital of Balkh Province, said she had been pushed into sex work after food prices started rising dramatically in November 2007.

“I am a widow and I have to feed my five children. I am illiterate and no one will give me a job. I hate to be a prostitute but if I stop doing this job my children will starve to death,” Najiba told IRIN.

Most women who turn to sex work are illiterate widows who lack professional skills to find alternative employment, according to Malalai Usmani, head of a local women’s rights non-governmental organisation (NGO) in Balkh.

“Extreme poverty and the obligation to feed their dependents have increased prostitution among women,” Usmani said.

Severe penalties

In Afghanistan sexual relations between a man and a woman outside marriage are considered a serious crime and offenders can face death penalty and/or a lengthy prison sentence, depending on their marital status and other circumstances.

Every year hundreds of female sex workers are sent to prison for allegedly having “unlawful sexual relationships”, according to women’s rights activists such as Usmani.

“This [sex work] is an abhorrent deed and an appalling crime. We encourage and help security forces to arrest and punish women involved in prostitution,” said Fariba Majid, director of the Women’s Affairs Department in Balkh Province.

Majid acknowledged that many female sex workers have no other option, but warned that the country’s Islamic laws and conservative culture meant prostitution was “unacceptable”.

Sex workers are also exposed to stigma and discrimination. “We cannot live in one place for long,” said a middle-aged sex worker who refused to be identified. “We move as soon as local people become suspicious of us.”

“People will spit on us and no one will interact with us if they know about our work,” she added.

Photo: Parwin Arizo/IRIN
Most sex workers are unaware of the risk of sexually transmittable diseases and HIV, health workers say
Poor HIV/AIDS awareness

Afghanistan launched its first ever national HIV/AIDS control programme in 2003. At least 436 HIV/AIDS cases have been confirmed over the past five years, according to the Ministry of Public Health.

Health specialists warn that sex workers, intravenous drug users, truck drivers and other vulnerable groups have very little knowledge about sexually transmitted diseases and preventive measures.

At least three female sex workers interviewed by IRIN said they paid no attention to HIV, and had not used condoms to avoid infection and/or the spread of the virus.

“I don’t know about HIV/AIDS,” said a female sex worker who preferred anonymity. “I have not seen any of my clients using a condom.”

Saif-ur-Rehman, director of the National HIV/AIDS Control Programme in Kabul, said there was a widespread lack of awareness about sexually transmitted diseases and HIV among commercial sex workers.

“We will launch a project to boost awareness and introduce preventive measures among sex workers hopefully in September [2008],” Rehman told IRIN, adding that the distribution of free condoms would be part of the project. “It’s a very sensitive project and we will try to avoid misconceptions that it supports or encourages prostitution in Afghanistan.”

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August 24, 2008 at 5:00 pm

Afghan mothers-to-be face dangerous journey

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They travel at night on back roads from rural areas to get ultrasounds and other medical attention

KATHERINE O’NEILL
Globe and Mail (Canada)

June 13, 2008

KANDAHAR CITY, AFGHANISTAN — Only when Shala lifts up her shapeless, lavender-coloured burka, can you tell that the 32-year-old Afghan woman is with child.

Almost four months pregnant, the mother of three has made the dangerous journey to Kandahar city from her home in rural Panjwai district to get an ultrasound.

Shala and her husband travelled part of the 50-kilometre distance by donkey and avoided all major roads for fear of hitting a homemade bomb. They also left at night and wore old clothes to avoid attracting attention from Taliban insurgents warring with Canadian soldiers.

Since the repressive Taliban regime was toppled in late 2001, Afghanistan, which has one of the highest infant and maternal mortality rates in the world, has vastly improved health-care services for mothers and their babies.

However, in restive regions in southern Afghanistan, such as rural areas in Kandahar and Helmand provinces, many women say the situation has worsened.

“During the Taliban, there was no problem for us. We had a doctor near our village. Now it’s not safe for them. They went away,” said Shala, who like many Afghans does not have a last name.

Her past four pregnancies were all difficult – one was a miscarriage – and she must make the trip to Kandahar city once a month for checkups.

Shala said her husband, whom she refuses to name for fear he will be targeted by militants, can afford the trips because he owns a small poultry business.

She said many of her female neighbours are poor and often have to borrow money from other women to head to the city for doctor’s appointments and the delivery.

There are some who go through their entire pregnancy without ever setting foot in a hospital or clinic, she added. Untrained midwives often assist with home births – and complications, such as bleeding and hypertension, can be fatal for both the mother and baby. About 24,000 women die every year in Afghanistan after childbirth.

Abdul Qayum Pakhla, director of health for Kandahar province, said the lack of security in certain rural areas is a continuing concern. In recent years, several medical workers in these regions have either gone missing or been killed by insurgents.

There are currently four Kandahar districts that have no clinics because of the lack of security. However, Dr. Pakhla said that since the Taliban regime was removed, overall health-care services in the province have improved significantly.

He said Kandahar city, where pregnant women have access to free deliveries and medicines, has become a health-care hub for the province.

The Canadian government has spent at least $350,000 supporting maternal health programs run by the Afghan government and United Nations Children’s Fund.

Some of the money is going toward building a residential obstetric-care facility in Kandahar city. It will open later this summer.

It is expected that more than 1,000 patients a year will use the facility as they wait to give birth in the nearby government hospital.

Last year, a preliminary report by Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore found that the number of children who die before their first birthdays in Afghanistan dropped 18 per cent to 135 per 1,000 live births in 2006 from 165 per 1,000 in 2001. In Canada, the rate in 2005 was 5.4 per 1,000.

Afghan government officials praised the research as a real sign of recovery for the war-ravaged country, and an indicator that access to health-care services for women and children had improved dramatically since 2001, especially in rural areas.

However, data from four provinces, including Kandahar, were left out of the countrywide study because of the lack of security in those turbulent areas.

The Afghan government has committed itself to reducing maternal mortality by 20 per cent by 2020 and officials have increased programs to train midwives and facilitate access to female medical staff. But the lack of security in certain areas remains a barrier.

Bibi Rayalia, who also lives in the Panjwai district, southwest of Kandahar, hopes that security will improve enough in the coming years so that when her four daughters become mothers they won’t have to risk their own lives just to go to the doctor.

Like Shala, the 41-year-old mother of six also had to make the dangerous trip into the city recently for a checkup. She is four months pregnant.

She said there is only one clinic close to her home (Panjwai district used to have four), but it’s always crowded and doesn’t have medical staff to deal with complicated pregnancies.

Shala and Rayalia are illiterate and uneducated about birth control, as are most women living in rural Afghanistan.

Shala said she wants to stop having children, but she is too embarrassed to ask her doctor for advice about contraception. “I don’t want any more babies, but I don’t know how to do it.”

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August 24, 2008 at 4:59 pm

Posted in Health, Women's Rights

Sex trade thrives in Afghanistan

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By ALISA TANG
Associated Press
June 14, 2008

KABUL, Afghanistan – The girl was 11 when she was molested by a man with no legs.

The man paid her $5. And that was how she started selling sex.

Afghanistan is one of the world’s most conservative countries, yet its sex trade appears to be thriving. Sex is sold most obviously at brothels full of women from China who serve both Afghans and foreigners. Far more controversial are Afghan prostitutes, who stay underground in a society that pretends they don’t exist.

Customs meant to keep women “pure” have not stopped prostitution. Girls are expected to remain virgins until their wedding nights, so some prostitutes have only anal sex.

Police make two to three prostitution arrests each week, according to Zia ul-Haq, the chief investigator in the Interior Ministry’s department of sexual crimes. They are often the casualties of nearly three decades of brutal war and a grinding poverty that forces most Afghans to live on less than $1 a day.

“Prostitution is in every country that has poverty, and it exists in Afghanistan,” says women’s rights activist Orzala Ashraf. “But society has black glasses and ignores these problems. Tradition is honor, and if we talk about these taboos, then we break tradition.”

The girl is now 13, and her features have just sharpened into striking beauty. She speaks four languages — the local languages of Pashtu and Dari, the Urdu she picked up as a refugee in Pakistan and the English she learned in a $2.40-a-month course she pays for herself in Kabul. She is the breadwinner in her family of 10.

She does not know what a condom is. She has not heard of AIDS.

The Associated Press learned her story in a dozen meetings over four months, as well as interviews with police and aid workers. For months she insisted she was a “good girl” — a virgin. But in March, she confessed to having anal sex with men for years, starting with the legless beggar.

She looked down as she spoke, her face and hands sooty from car exhaust. She tucked her hair repeatedly under her head scarf.

The girl grew up in Pakistan, where her family fled during a bloody civil war in Afghanistan in the early 1990s. She cleaned cars for money.

Five years ago, her family and a flood of other refugees returned to Afghanistan after the U.S.-led invasion toppled the Taliban regime. But her father could earn only $40 a month doing various odd jobs.

So she sold chewing gum and newspapers and cleaned car windows in the muddy, potholed streets of Kabul. She made about $3 a day.

That was where she met Uncle Lang, a nickname that literally means Uncle Legless.

Uncle Lang was a land mine victim. When the girl and a friend brought him tea and food, he forced himself upon them, police say.

“I didn’t know anything about sex,” she says. “But it happened.”

It’s hard to know how many other women in Afghanistan are prostitutes because of the extreme secrecy around the issue. A University of Manitoba report last September estimated about 900 female sex workers in Kabul.

A 2005 report by the German aid group Ora International drew data from 122 female sex workers, of whom less than 1 percent knew about AIDS. The youngest was 14.

Prostitutes in Afghanistan include scores of Chinese women serving Western customers who work for security firms, companies and aid groups in Afghanistan. Many of the women say they were tricked into the trade by middlemen who promised them respectable jobs, but Gen. Ali Shah Paktiawal, head of Kabul’s criminal investigations, denies this, saying: “They come here of their own will.”

The shame of prostitution in Afghanistan is intense.

“In our culture, it is very, very bad,” said Soraya Sobhrang, the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commissioner for women’s affairs.

Under the Afghan penal code, prostitution is often considered adultery, which is punishable by five to 15 years in prison. Under Islamic law, married prostitutes can be stoned to death.

Some prostitutes are forced into the sex trade by their families. The Ora report said 39 percent of the sex workers interviewed found clients through their relatives — including 17 percent through their mothers and 15 percent through their husbands.

For many girls, there is little recourse.

“They think that if they tell us the truth, we will return them to their families, and their families will kill them, or that we will send them to an institution and they will be put in prison,” says Jamila Ghairat of the aid organization Women for Afghan Women. “The girls are afraid of their families, the government and everyone.”

In some cases, it is families that pimp out the girls. At one family-run brothel, the oldest girl was a 15-year-old, orphaned when her parents died in rocket attacks in Kabul. A relative had married her off to a 9-year-old boy whose father was a pimp. She ran away three times, but each time her father-in-law bribed police to bring her back. She finally escaped to the human rights commission.

Makeshift brothels exist all over Kabul, but they are always moving, says Esmatullah Nekzad, a policeman formerly with the force’s Department of Moral Crimes. The clients are mostly Afghan men.

“Most Afghan men have this hobby — young men from about 16 to 30 years of age,” says Nekzad. “You go, you take their phone number, then you tell your friends. It’s all by telephone.”

The girls stay in one place for anything from five days to three months, until neighbors learn of their business.

That’s what happened with the girl Uncle Lang raped. In November, he trafficked her and several others to the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif to beg and sell sex. Within days the neighbors became suspicious and tipped off police.

Police raided the place and arrested the prostitutes. Uncle Lang fled.

For a few weeks, the girl went daily to a women’s aid organization. She arrived in the morning, worked in the kitchen and had an hour of counseling every day. She left at 4 p.m.

Her hands became clean and soft. She was happier. She started praying to ask Allah forgiveness for her sins.

At first she said her family did not know she was selling sex, and her mother would kill her. But during the counseling sessions, she let it slip that her parents encouraged her to work with Uncle Lang. When she stopped seeing him, they sent her 10-year-old brother instead.

One day, an aid worker spotted her with Uncle Lang on a popular street lined with kebab and ice cream shops.

The aid worker confronted her. A day later, the girl stopped going to the organization.

She has not been seen or heard from since.

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August 24, 2008 at 4:57 pm

Chinese prostitutes imported to Afghanistan

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By ALISA TANG
Associated Press
June 14, 2008

KABUL, Afghanistan – A string of lights spells out the name of the bar in the back of the basement in capital letters, PARADISE. A dozen Chinese women in skintight miniskirts and halter tops flit around clusters of beefy Western men and flirt in broken English.

Now and then, a man and woman climb the stairs to the upper reaches of the house, where Paradise does its real business.

Paradise is a brothel in an unmarked residential compound in an upscale Kabul neighborhood where prostitutes from China cater to Western men. Since the U.S.-led invasion in 2001, thousands of Westerners working for security firms, companies and aid groups have poured into Afghanistan. Not long after came Chinese prostitutes, in some cases trafficked into the country.

The International Organization for Migration helped 96 Chinese women who were deported in 2006. They told IOM they were deceived by a travel agency in China and promised employment in a restaurant for $300 a month. But when they arrived, they said, the Chinese restaurant owner denied them salary and forced them to provide sexual services by night.

An IOM staffer said one Chinese woman thought she was going to work in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and had no idea she had instead landed in Kabul.

Afghan officials deny these claims.

“They come here of their own will. They want to do business here. Police caught them red-handed,” said Gen. Ali Shah Paktiawal, head of Kabul’s criminal investigations.

In recent years, Afghan authorities have carried out a campaign against moral corruption, raiding brothels fronting as restaurants and deporting the Chinese prostitutes in front of TV cameras. Last year in Kabul, 180 female prostitutes were arrested — 154 “foreigners” and 26 Afghans, Paktiawal said. He would not give the nationalities of the foreign prostitutes, but many raids in recent years have been at Chinese restaurants.

Many Afghans blame prostitution on immoral Chinese women and Western men and say it is un-Islamic. The highly publicized crackdown on Chinese prostitutes has led to rampant harassment of women of East Asian origin. Police often single out Asian women in spot checks on Kabul’s streets.

In Paradise, the women speak Chinese among themselves. One says she is from a town outside Beijing.

The brothel has two identical doors in the back of the building. One leads down to the well-stocked basement bar where the women mingle with potential clients. The other leads up to the main part of the house, where every nook and cranny that can be closed off has a spartan twin bed mattress with no sheets.

A Pussycat Dolls pop song pumps on the speakers, “Don’t Cha wish your girlfriend was hot like me?” One man rubs the belly of a girl in a gauzy pink miniskirt.

A frequent customer at the bar says it costs $70 to take a woman upstairs, and $150 to have her company for the night.

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June 14, 2008 at 4:49 pm

Posted in Society, Women's Rights