This is the story of Naghma, a young Afghan girl who was "sold" to pay off a debt. You may have read about her today in the New York Times. But that report was dated and incomplete. There have been several developments over the past weeks that have changed the story significantly.
This was not Naghma's first appearance in the press. Her story has become famous, first in Great Britain, and now in the United States. It has become a heartbreaking example of the plight of women and the poor in Afghanistan, calling into question how much the United States and its allies have really achieved after a decade of war in protecting Afghanistan's most vulnerable. Dan Rather and a team of producers traveled to Kabul earlier last month to profile an American attorney helping Afghan women. That's when we met the 6-year-old girl and her father at a refugee camp near the capital city. What we found is that Naghma's story has moved in a positive direction from what was reported in the newspaper this morning. (And it highlights the difficulties of reporting in a place like Afghanistan.)
But first a little history. Naghma's story first came to light in late January when an Afghan reporter who works for the BBC found her and her family living in deplorable conditions in a Kabul refugee camp. And then came a shocker. It appeared that in order to pay a debt Naghma's father had agreed at a meeting of tribal elders known as a jirga, to in essence sell his daughter to an 18-year-old boy for marriage. The price was $2,500. Disturbing as this may be, this type of "transaction" is not uncommon in Afghanistan.
When the BBC story ran, it created quite a buzz in Britain and offers of donations poured in. Representatives of the BBC didn't want to get involved in the brokering of the donations so American attorney Kimberly Motley, who works in Kabul, was contacted and volunteered to make sure the debt was paid and the young girl not forced into marriage.
More than three weeks ago, when Mr. Rather and his production team were in Kabul, a second jirga was held. With Ms. Motley acting as a legal representative, the father Taj Mohammed handed over the cash to the man who was owed. Mohammad then signed a document that said he would never sell one of his daughters again, including young Naghma. That was on March 7. Here is a video clip from that day with the American attorney Motley, the father and tribal elders signing an agreement and handing over the equivalent of $2,500 to settle the debt:
Motley said she was trying to work behind the scenes and worried that Afghan women's activist groups were pushing the story to the press, even after knowing that it had been resolved. She was concerned that police would arrest Naghma's father and an already difficult situation for the 6-year-old girl and her seven brothers and sisters would be made worse. A father in jail would mean no possibility of income for a family already living on the edge of life and death. One of Naghma's brothers had frozen to death this past winter in the squalid conditions of the camp. Soon after the story was published this morning, the Afghan police appeared at the camp. But they couldn't find Taj Mohammad.
In the agreement brokered by Motley, Naghma's father also agreed to send all his daughters to school, and allow them to decide when they want to get married and to whom they wed.
Dan Rather Reports will have the complete story of Naghma, and the lawyer that helped her to freedom in a special program later this month on AXS-TV.