Hamida was outside the tent, holding the leash of her dog. Her mother, Marzia, and her friend started smoking heroin on foil inside.
Hamida, 10, ran into the tent as soon as she smelled heroin, crying and begging her mother to allow her to join the feast. Marzia welcomed her. Then, the three started inhaling heroin smoke into their lungs.
Marzia’s two sons were also inside the tent. They, too, wanted to join. But they were not as lucky as Hamida.
“Go, work hard, and get your own heroin,” the women responded to them, coldly.
Marzia and her husband, Sayed Zaman, have five children, four of whom including Hamida are addicted to heroin and other drugs. Three of their underage children, who live with them inside the tent on the outskirts of Ghazni city, are their parents’ partner in consuming drugs like heroin. One of their adult children, who live in Iran, is also an addict.
In Afghanistan, an increasing number of women and children battle addiction. The Taliban government’s deputy prime minister, Abdul Salam Hanafi, said last month that five million Afghans are addicted to drug, one million of whom are women and children.
The former government estimated that around 70,000 including 21,000 women and children were addicted in Ghazni alone.
Mawlawi Mohammad Hanif Mesbah, the Taliban’s director of public health in Ghazni province, said the actual number of addicts may be much higher than previously reported.
Husbands addict wives, then both addict children by exposing them to opium smoke. This is how addiction ruins Afghan families.
Marzia’s addiction also started when her husband encouraged her to use opium as painkiller because the family couldn’t afford the medical expenses to treat her stomach pain. And her children got involved in heroin when they saw their parents consuming it.
Zaman Rezai, head of psychology department of a hospital in Ghazni province, said men are the ones who usually bring the addiction into the families, and the women and children living with them often follow the suit.
“The use of painkiller medicine and the existence of an addicted man in the family are the two main reasons behind the women’s addiction,” he said.
He added family problems and psychological pressures also push women toward addiction.
Sanam, 30, said she began consuming opium after being divorced because her husband married to a second wife. She couldn’t bear the pain of separation from her six children, so she consumed drugs like opium to escape from the bitter reality of her life.
Sanam has no place of her own to live, moving between her friends and relatives’ homes in Ghazni city. She said she uses two grams of crystal meth every day.
Addicted women said it has become easier for them to get drugs, and the sales of industrial narcotics and opium have increased significantly since the Taliban’s return to power.
“Even children are providing drug,” Sanam said. “It is because suppliers supply freely.”
The Taliban leader, Haibatullah Akhundzada, issued an order three weeks ago, banning the cultivation, trade and consumption of opium and other drugs. But given the scale of the calamity, many doubt his order would have any positive impact on the addiction problem.
Millions are addicted. Afghanistan is still one of the largest, if not the largest producer of opium. The Taliban, themselves, are involved in the international trade of narcotics, many alleges. There are few hospitals to treat addicts in Afghanistan.
In Ghazni for instance, the Taliban are using Kooi-Baad prison as a treatment facility because there is no hospital to treat women addicts in the province.
Marzia said she was taken to Kooi-Baad prison and was kept there for more than two months.
“They gave only three loaves of bread and cold water in 24 hours,” she said. “I was in pain for two months and ten days. I couldn’t sleep even for one night.”
Doctors specializing in treating addiction criticized the Taliban’s approach to the problem. They said drug addicts need to eat healthy food, take medicine, and speak with psychiatrists regularly when they are under recovery treatment. But putting the addicts in prison, and giving them little food to eat will not help them to quit.
Yaqoot, a 21-year-old mother of two daughters, said she and her children are drug addicts. They live in the outskirt of Ghazni city in a mud house, the roof of which is covered with pieces of old cloths and plastic.
“When people realize we are addicts, they don’t let us to get close to their streets,” she said. “People treat dogs with more respect than us.”
It is not only Ghazni. Women and children battle addiction and the challenges that come with it across Afghanistan.
Nafisa, 30, a drug addict in Nili city of Daikundi province, said she started taking drugs when she suffered from kidney diseases.
“I took opium to relieve the pain,” she said.
She started with opium. But now she uses crystal meth.
The mistreatment by the Taliban, and the sexual harassment by men are problems she faces every day, she added.
Ghulam Hussain Rahimi, an anti-addiction expert at Daikundi public health department, said two clinics, each with 20 beds are available for recovery treatment of addicts in Daikundi, but both are now closed due to financial problems after the Taliban came to power. He estimated between 45,000 – 70.000 around 30 percent of whom are women, are addicted to different types of drugs in his province.
Zainab, her husband Sayed Reza, and their three underage children are addicted to drug in Daikundi. The family has no money to pay for food which has forced the parents to make the most difficult decision of their lives. They want to sell their children.
They have put price tag on their children, 100,000 Afghani (USD 1150) for the girl, and 50,000 Afghani (USD 575) for each boy.
“They will die if they stay with us,” Zainab said. “People can buy them and raise them for themselves and they can give us the money, so we can treat ourselves.”