Four Corners: July 16

Monday night’s Four Corners screens the PBS Frontline‘s report on “Opium Brides,” reported by Najibullah Quraishi and produced by Jamie Doran who previously brought us The Dancing Boys of Afghanistan.

Would you hand over your daughter to pay a debt; or even to save your own life? That’s the position faced by many farmers in Afghanistan – a country where women and young girls are seen as tradable goods. While the world has been horrified to see an Afghan woman executed for alleged adultery it’s now clear that Afghanistan Government policies, supported by NATO and the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), are fuelling the trade in children.

It starts in the poppy fields of eastern Afghanistan. For many farmers, growing and selling opium to smugglers is the only way to alleviate poverty. The opium they grow, refined into heroin, is then sold illegally on the streets of cities across the world with devastating results.

Over the past few years the Afghan Government, encouraged by NATO and ISAF, has embarked on a massive eradication program to destroy poppy fields in the most popular growing areas. They tell farmers to grow other crops like maize and wheat.

The strategy is well intentioned, but it creates a major problem for farming families, who in their desperation have borrowed money from traffickers to grow their crops. When crops are destroyed the farmers can’t pay back the loans. As a result the traffickers seek compensation, telling farmers: “give us your daughters or we will kill you”. Girls as young as six and young boys are sold into sex-slavery, to save their fathers.

Multi-award-winning reporter Najibullah Quraishi journeys deep into the Afghan countryside to reveal the personal and social devastation the eradication program is causing. He shows how the Taliban protects and encourages heroin smugglers to finance opium growing, in return for a cut of the profits. He meets the families whose children have been stolen and those who are under threat from the drug lords. What we see is the deadly bargain local farmers are being forced to make in order to save their own lives.

Opium Brides follows the stories of four families under threat and on the run from traffickers. By the end, only two girls remain free, forced into hiding from the opium smugglers. As one 11-year-old girl tells us:

“If they take me, I’ll have to kill myself. Death is better than sorrow and sadness.”

Monday 16th July at 8.30pm.

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