A mother turns to sex work


“I can’t see any other way to feed the children besides prostitution...”

It was morning. Gulnaz (pseudonym) was having breakfast with her children when the phone rang. It was a friend of her husband with bad news. Her husband had been severely injured, and his two brothers killed in an attack on the checkpoint they manned in Wardak province.

That was 2011, and the start of a difficult time for Gulnaz. Her husband had lost one of his legs in the blast and had shrapnel embedded in his head - possibly in the brain - which the doctors did not want to operate on. After a period in hospital, he returned home but struggled to recover. Six months on, after complaining of a headache one evening, he died. Gulnaz was left living with six children and her surviving brother-in-law, who had taken on responsibility for the three children of his brothers killed in the attack.

She was remarried to a police officer, but he too lost his life in a landmine attack on his vehicle in Zabul province. Not long after, her surviving brother-in-law was also killed while serving with the Afghan army. Gulnaz was left to look after nine children, living at home with her mother.

For years, she struggled to make ends meet as a house cleaner, while also collecting her late husband’s police pension. But since the takeover by the Taliban in August 2021, she no longer receives the pension, and the owner of the houses has fled, leaving her without a job. With no income and nine children to look after, she was desperate.

“I had no option but to sell my body to feed my children. It’s not a choice but I feel compelled to do it. If I am arrested by the Taliban, I will be killed but I don’t care, my children need food”, said Gulnaz in a phone call with Afghan Witness.

She finds clients through a man in Kabul, who takes a commission in the process. Each client pays her 500-1000 Afghani - the equivalent of $5-10.

Gulnaz’s story is not uncommon. Samia (also a pseudonym) has four children and was the sole breadwinner for the family after her husband died from illness. She had worked in a cleaning company, but after the Taliban takeover in August, the company stopped working and let all the staff go. She had turned to begging in the streets to feed her children, the youngest only two and half years old. But she could not make ends meet and felt no choice but to turn to prostitution. She says she makes between 400 Afghani to 1000 Afghani from each client.

“It makes me wish I was dead, but I can’t see any other way to feed the children besides prostitution. When I go to sleep, I cry about the terrible life I am living and think about killing myself, but I can’t abandon my children,” Samia told Afghan Witness.

The collapse of the former government, state support and the private sector, and the uncertainty over the jobs women are allowed to do under the Taliban, have left many out of work at a time when food and basic services are increasingly hard to come by.

For Gulnaz, Samia and others like them, they feel they have no choice but to sell their bodies to survive and support their families.

Interview by Afghan Witness