A U.S.-backed eradication effort has sharply cut lucrative poppy cultivation in the Nangarhar province of Afghanistan, but the sharecroppers’ debts remain. The Boston Globe reports that some of the region’s poorest farmers say they are being forced to repay traffickers with the only thing they have left: their daughters. Giving a daughter to repay a debt is a rare but old practice among rural tribesmen of Afghanistan. A payment of last resort, the daughter is almost always given as a bride to the money-lender or to his son, but is sometimes given as a servant, says the International Organization for Migration.
Interviews with more than a dozen indebted farmers and tribal elders from four districts of Nangarhar described witnessing or participating in such transactions. A report last month by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime estimated that the eradication program — a combination of crop destruction and persuading farmers not to plant — reduced Afghan poppy cultivation by 21 percent this year. In Nangarhar, the reduction was 96 percent. The U.S. and Afghan governments have billed the campaign, which began in November 2004, as the most significant victory in the battle against narcotics in Afghanistan, the world’s largest producer of opium poppies.