By: Sherin Yousfi
Maryam was a police officer not so long ago. She put on her teal uniform every morning, and left home to carry out her duties at a police station to protect Kabul residents.
But now, she wears a burqa to cover her entire body and face, sitting on the corner of a street for hours everyday, begging to feed her two teenage children.
Maryam was paid monthly 15,000 Afghani as a police officer, less than 200 USD, an amount barely enough for the family expenses. She had little savings. So she quickly ran out of money after she lost her job with the Taliban’s return to power.
She said she started begging around four months after the collapse of the former government.
“My life was ruined with the fall of the republic,” Maryam,38, said. “I could not pay the rent for several months and my children were hungry.”
For Maryam, begging under the burqa is a safe choice because she couldn’t look for work due to the fear of being identified by the Taliban who have persecuted, members of the former government’s security forces.
She said begging is like dying everyday, but she is doing it to keep her two daughters alive.
“I do this only because I do not want to see my children die,” she said.
“Nobody helps you on bad days,” she added, “No one asked if I was alive or dead.”
Maryam graduated from high school in Daikundi province, then got married when she was 21. Her husband, a daily laborer, could barely make enough money to pay the rent of the house they lived in. So she took a job as a cook at the Defense Ministry where she worked for two years.
She then joined the police force, serving for three years until the Taliban came to power last August.
Maryam became the only breadwinner in the family after her husband got sick and died of heart disease. Then came the Taliban, and she lost her job soon after that.
She said even her own children don’t know she is a street beggar. “I am cleaning in a house,” she told her children.
The number of street beggars have increased dramatically since the Taliban took power. Burqa-clad women and children are lining up outside bakeries, supermarkets, and walking in the streets, hoping someone will hand them cash or food.
In addition to feeding her children, Maryam said she has to pay 2,000 Afghani monthly rent.
Street harassment of female beggars has always been prevalent in Kabul. Maryam also faces such abuses. She said once a man donated some cash to her, then his friend said “Come on, these women are all prostitutes. They sit under the burqa to find customers.”
“I cried all day and went home with two loaves of bread for dinner,” she said. “My children were asking if my employer had said anything? Why was I sad? But I had no answer to give them.”
Maryam said she is worried about the future of her two daughters under Taliban rule.
“Under their government, starving to death isn’t a problem, but being without a burqa is a problem,” she said. “What kind of Islamic government is this?”
“I worry my daughters will also become beggars like me,” she added.
Note: Maryam is a pseudonym. We don’t use her real name for safety reasons.