01/03/2012 05:32 pm ET Updated Jan 03, 2012

Unlucky 39: Cars With Wrong Number In Afghanistan Associated With Prostitution (WATCH)

Some people go to extreme lengths to avoid black cats and broken mirrors. Afghanis assign significance to one particular two-digit number.

Just as many Americans avoid the number 13, a growing number of people in this wartorn country fear 39.

"This [was] a very small issue. Now it has grown big," Haji Wafa, head of Car Dealer's Union 218, told Al Jazeera.

If a car has a "39" anywhere on the registration plate -- similar to a VIN number in the United States -- the car is simply unwanted.

Wafa says he has been unable to sell one car that he purchased more than a year ago with a registration number of 7398 -- even at a 30% price reduction.

The stigma behind the number began to spread last year. According to NPR, no one knows for sure why the number has become so taboo so quickly.

One theory: 39 reportedly translates to morda-gow, which means "dead cow." It is also a slang term for a pimp.

Whatever the reason, the number is now associated with great shame.

To avoid being ostracized and harassed, some car owners with a 39 on their registration plates are illegally altering the plates and covering up the numbers. Others are anxious to get rid of their cars.

"People think that I am a real pimp and since I have women in my car, they perceive that I am doing business with the women," Abdul Samad, a Kabul taxi driver whose car plates include the number 39, told NDTV.

Samad added, "I am selling this car soon."

The number was even the subject of a heated debate at a recent meeting of Afghan elders. During the November meeting, approximately 2,000 elders were divided into 40 committees to debate the presence of U.S. troops in Afghanistan after 2014. The meeting, however, got off to a rough start when members of committee 39 refused to acknowledge the number.

"The participants divided into 40 committees, but committee 39 did not accept this number for themselves, so we decided to remove this number," Safia Sediqi, spokeswoman for loya jirga, told The Hibernia Times. "Now it is 41, but in reality there are 40 committees."

Although the elders' actions might have given greater credence to the superstition, not everyone is convinced that the problem will endure.

Faiz Mohammed, the administrator of the Facebook group entitled "Let's Fight Against Wrong Mentality About Number 39 In Afghanistan," told Al Jazeera that he was trying to change the perception about number 39. "It's just a number. [It's] not a bad thing," he said.