Impoverished mothers administer the opiates to their children to pacify them while they work.
Child deaths are tragically common in Afghanistan, where one in ten children doesn’t reach the age of five, usually due to preventable illnesses such as respiratory infections. But in at least one impoverished, mainly Turkmen area, Kunduz, children are reportedly dying from using drugs that are given to them by their own mothers as a means of pacifying them. “I fed my daughter a lot of drugs at one time. It killed her,” says Zarghoona, a woman who lives in the village and has been giving her children opium since they were born. “We didn’t have the money to take her to the hospital.” Opioid use is particularly common in the Qali a Zal district, where the majority of the women are carpet-weavers. Because of the strenuous nature of their jobs, and the long hours, the women resort to drugs to quiet their kids down. Out of a population of 800,000, Kunduz province has over 30,000 drug addicts—more than half come from the Qali a Zal district, and 40% of them are children.
“Unlike other districts, the most anguishing point is that the women are addicted,” says Abdul Basir Murshid, director of counternarcotics for the Afghan government in Kunduz. Drug abuse receives little notice in Afghanistan, and there is little help available for addicts. “When a baby is born, on the very first day they grease their navel with fluid of opium, so that the baby does not cry and sleeps well,” says Dr. Rahmatuliah, who heads the local government council here. “After a few months, they give it to them orally. I have told many of these people not to do this, but they say, ‘We have raised all our babies like this.'” Since 2005, the country has seen a 53% rise in the number of opium abusers; the country produces 90% of the world’s opium.