A young child cradles her sibling in her lap in Afghanistan.

Farnaz*, cuddles her baby sister Lila*, whose twin was given away at birth due to the family’s extreme poverty. Photo credit: Michal Przedlacki

Desperate Afghan Mother Forced to Give Up One Twin to Feed the Other as Hunger Crisis Worsens

FAIRFIELD, Conn. (Dec. 9, 2021) — An Afghan mother has been forced to give up one of her twins as Afghanistan’s food crisis becomes so dire that an increasing number of families are being driven to desperate measures to be able to feed their children, Save the Children said.

A few months ago, Bibi*, 40, gave birth to twins – a boy and a girl. But Bibi* and her husband, Mohammad*, 45, decided they had no choice but to give one of them up as they did not have enough money to feed their now eight children. So, they gave the child to a childless couple.

We have nothing, so how could I take care of them (both)?” said Bibi*. “I suffered from having to split them up. It was a very difficult [decision], more than you could imagine. It was especially difficult to give the baby away because of poverty.

The heartbreaking story was uncovered by Save the Children staff in Afghanistan, and is the latest reported incident of poverty-stricken parents being forced to abandon their children.

More than 97 percent of Afghans are predicted to sink below the poverty line by mid-next year. The country is facing its worst food crisis on record, and an increasing number of families, like Bibi’s*, are being pushed to make desperate, life-altering decisions in order to survive. 

Bibi* explained that she intended to give her baby away without seeking any payment for the child. However, in the end, they received a small sum of money in exchange for the baby. 

I couldn’t afford milk, food, or medicine. With that money, I could buy food for half a year,” she said. 

The family was displaced from their farm about seven months ago due to prolonged drought, which has devastated crops and pushed millions to the brink of famine. It has been extremely difficult for Mohammad* to find work for even a couple of days a week. When he does, a full day’s wage does not even cover two days of expenses for his family. 

In order to supplement the family’s income, their son, Hamdast*, 12, works in the local market, pushing carts that carry people’s personal belongings.

We need help; we are hungry and poor,” said Mohammad*. “There are no work opportunities in Afghanistan. We have children. We need flour and oil the most, which we don’t have. It’s also good to have firewood. I could not afford to buy meat in the last two or three months. We only have bread for the children, which is not always available.”

Stories like these are becoming all too common in Afghanistan. Save the Children learned of a second case of a distressed mother of twins, Fatima*, who came under pressure from her family to leave one of her babies, who was malnourished because of poverty. 

Fatima’s* 18-month-old twins, Ara* and Milad*, are both unwell and weak. With the weather getting colder and Ara* suffering from severe malnutrition, Fatima* explained she couldn’t afford to care for her children as a single parent, but she did not want to give Ara* away. 

My son and my daughter cried all last night because they were hungry. We have nothing in my house. We have no food, no flour, we have nothing,” said Fatima*. “My husband doesn’t send us money. (He says) ‘let her die.’ Everyone was telling me, ‘We will buy her,’ but I didn’t give her up. I have lots of hope for my children to be healthy in the future.”

Almost 14 million children will not know where their next meal will come from this winter, putting millions of young lives at risk as the country faces its worst-ever food crisis on record. 

Millions of children are at risk of illness or even death because they don’t have enough to eat, Save the Children warned, with an estimated 3.2 million children under the age of five expected to suffer from acute malnutrition by the end of the year. 

Nora Hassanien, acting Country Director in Afghanistan, said:

“It is absolutely heartbreaking that some Afghan families are being pushed to such extreme, desperate measures in order to survive and feed their other children. No parent should ever have to make the impossible decision to give up a child. 

“Millions of children in Afghanistan, who have already lived their entire lives through war, are now being pushed to the brink of starvation. As temperatures drop to well below freezing, thousands of families will not be able to afford fuel to keep warm this winter, putting children at risk of illness or even death. 

“Time is running out to get children the life-saving help they need to survive the winter. And aid efforts are being hampered by sanctions and counter-terror policies, which prevent aid from getting to the families who desperately need it.”

Save the Children is calling for governments to make urgent exemptions under their existing counterterror and sanctions policies to allow for the swift and uninterrupted delivery of life-saving humanitarian aid. It also wants donor governments to provide immediate funding to help vulnerable children and their families. 

Save the Children is providing families like Bibi* and Fatima’s* with urgent food, infant and young child feeding training, hygiene kits, blankets, and warm clothes to help them get through the bitter winter.

*Names changed to protect identity

Save the Children believes every child deserves a future. Since our founding more than 100 years ago, we’ve changed the lives of more than 1 billion children. In the United States and around the world, we give children a healthy start in life, the opportunity to learn and protection from harm. We do whatever it takes for children – every day and in times of crisis – transforming their lives and the future we share. Follow us on FacebookInstagramTwitter and YouTube.

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