Drug Addiction In Afghanistan Is A Growing Problem Among Women — And Children : Goats and Soda A growing number of women and children are becoming entangled in drugs as the country's number of addicts aggressively grows.
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Women And Children Are The Emerging Face Of Drug Addiction In Afghanistan

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Women And Children Are The Emerging Face Of Drug Addiction In Afghanistan

Women And Children Are The Emerging Face Of Drug Addiction In Afghanistan

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NOEL KING, HOST:

Afghanistan grows a lot of opium, more today than almost at any other time since the U.S. invaded the country 18 years ago. Global markets are awash in its byproduct - heroin. But heroin is also tearing holes in Afghan society, too. NPR's Diaa Hadid brought us this from Kabul.

DIAA HADID, BYLINE: Q shows off how well he sings. He wants to do this professionally.

Q: (Singing in foreign language).

HADID: But first, his mother says, he's got to break his heroin addiction. He's 10. He's one of the handful of kids here. We're referring to him by an initial because of his age, and we only refer to the women in the rehab center by their first names because of the discrimination they'll face if they're identified. Q became addicted through his parents. He began smoking his father's heroin in the summer, and nobody noticed. Q's eyes are sunken. His cheeks are pinched. You can feel his bones when you give him a hug. He says shaking off heroin was hard.

Q: (Through interpreter) I went through a lot of pain. Every single bone in my body was hurting.

HADID: Q and his mother are perhaps the new faces of addiction in Afghanistan. They're at a government-run rehab center in Kabul. It's on a quiet street. You can hear the hum of generators. And it seems to offer some respite. Inside, kids play on swings, women chat in the courtyard. One woman starts singing.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Singing in foreign language).

HADID: The head doctor here is Shaista Hakeem. She's worked in this field for two decades. She says it was rare in the beginning to see a female addict, let alone a child.

SHAISTA HAKEEM: (Through interpreter) Day by day, with the passage of years, those numbers are growing.

HADID: And the data reflects that. According to the U.N., in 2009, Afghanistan had nearly 1 million drug users. By 2015, the last time a major report was done, that number had grown to 2.5 million. Hakeem, the doctor, says decades of war and poverty have ground women down, making them and their kids more vulnerable to addiction. There's also more supply. There's more opium being grown than nearly ever before, and more of it is being converted locally into heroin. Hakeem says she's seeing things now that were shocking just a few years ago, like women living in drug dens, where some work as prostitutes.

HAKEEM: (Through interpreter) They go there because people offer them drugs. They take the drugs but do whatever is asked of them.

HADID: Q and his mother lived in one of those dens, but she says her husband supplied her drugs. Now at the rehab center, she's learning how to cut hair.

(SOUNDBITE OF SEWING MACHINE)

HADID: In another room, kids learn how to sew. They're making red pants and purple tops. Some of the kids were using drugs; some of them are accompanying their mothers. But just being here makes them lucky. Farida says one of her sons pushed her into rehab. It's her second time here this year. She says she was addicted through her husband. She was only a kid herself when it happened. She was 8 when she was married, and she didn't know what heroin was when he got her to smoke it.

They had five children together, and she says her husband married off their daughters to the highest bidders. Basically, he sold them for about $6,000. They were 11 and 12.

FARIDA: (Through interpreter) He sold them for money. He used it for drugs.

HADID: Now one of those girls is 14, and she has a baby. Her eldest son is in jail. He's an addict, too. Farida desperately wants to break her addiction and salvage her family.

FARIDA: (Through interpreter) I live with regret every single second in my heart. My son is in prison because of my heroin addiction. My daughters were married off very young.

HADID: But heroin isn't the only drug flooding the Afghan market. Sharifa has great dark eyes. She's the child of street beggars, and she's a beggar herself. She says her life was never easy, but it felt like it was becoming harder and harder. Her husband was sick. She was struggling to keep her daughters in school.

SHARIFA: (Through interpreter) Because of my poverty, my situation, I was very upset.

HADID: So a neighbor gave her meth a few months ago. She said it would take away her pain, but Sharifa says it made her crazy. She chopped her hair off. It's short and messy. She burned herself and shows me the scars on her arms. She couldn't sleep, couldn't eat. Her mother took away her kids.

SHARIFA: (Through interpreter) My mother is taking care of them. She begs with my children. And I came here.

HADID: Sharifa wants to get better and maybe get a job here at the rehab center. She says life on the outside isn't going to improve for her; she'd still be begging, and drugs, offering release and escape, would still be waiting for her.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Singing in foreign language).

HADID: Diaa Hadid, NPR News, Kabul.

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