Kabul--Some days ago, at the Afghan Peace Volunteers' Borderfree Center, I met Jamila, the mother of a little girl, Fatima, who comes to the Street Kids School, a program designed to help children working on the streets go to school. Jamila, a young mother of seven, smiles and laughs easily, even though she faces dire circumstances here in Kabul.
Nine years ago, at age 19, she fled escalating conflict in Pul e Khumri, located in the northern province of Baghlan, and moved to Kabul. Jamila had already been married for 12 years.
Her family, desperate for income, had sold her in marriage to an older man when she was seven years old. As a child, she lived in servitude to the family of her future husband, earning a small income for them through sewing and embroidering.
At age 13, She gave birth to her oldest daughter . With her when we met were two of her middle daughters, Fatima and Nozuko. Her oldest daughter is no longer with her, as, at age 12, she was given away, six years ago now, in marriage. Jamila is determined not to give her remaining daughters away in marriage while they are still children.
One and a half years ago, Fatima, then aged 9, developed a fever which lasted for about a month. All four of her limbs became paralyzed. In a hospital at Wazir Akbar Khan, doctors said she was 10 minutes away from death. They treated her for typhoid meningitis and hospitalized her. After a month, the doctors said she was not ready for discharge, but Jamila had other children to take care of and had already incurred huge debt. The doctors made her sign a form saying they were not responsible if Fatima died. They said Jamila must continue with twice-a-day injections of strong antibiotics.
After being discharged from the hospital, Fatima continued receiving the injections for a year and a half until, one day, about three months ago, Jamila abruptly stopped giving Fatima the injections. When Fatima developed a fever, Jamila became panicky again.
Fatima finally ended up in a private hospital whose initial tests cost 3,000 Afghanis (about $50 U.S. dollars). Jamila begged loans from her sister, her uncle and her cousins to pay for the lab tests.
Doctors told Jamila that Fatima needed the injections because the typhoid bacteria were in her blood.