An American lawyer helped save a 6-year-old Afghan girl from marriage, a desperate measure by her father to pay off family debts.
Taj Mohammad told CNN that he had no choice but to give his daughter Naghma away to the 19-year-old son of a lender to whom he owed money. The family’s harrowing journey began when they fled the violent Helmand Province for a refugee camp outside of Kabul. Suffering from the harsh conditions there, his wife was hospitalized with an illness, and the family’s 3-year-old son froze to death.
Taj Mohammad borrowed $2,500 to pay for family expenses, including his wife’s medical bills. But he ran into trouble when he couldn’t pay the money back.
"It was a difficult decision," Mohammad told CNN. "Everyone gives away their child, but to give Naghma away like that was just so hard."
Luckily, human rights groups heard about Naghma’s intended fate and contacted Milwaukee-based lawyer Kimberly Motley. Motley has worked in Afghanistan since 2008, traveling from her family’s home in Wisconsin to take part in a State Department training program for Afghan defense attorneys.
Motley set up a permanent practice when she recognized the need for lawyers, particularly to defend women’s rights pro bono.
Motley was able to get Naghma out of the marriage by arranging a meeting of elders called a Jirga. In a stroke of fortune, an anonymous donor paid off Taj Mohammad's debt.
"I'm certainly very happy that Naghma did not have to be married off at the age of 6, so I'm pleased with that," Motley said. "But I'd like to make sure she gets an education and becomes successful."
Now Naghma, now 7, has the opportunity to go to school for the first time. Both Naghma and her 9-year-old brother, Wakhil, have been offered places at the National Institute of Music, a school for orphans and underprivileged children.
During a recent visit to the school, Taj Mohammad said he hoped his children will receive an education and have a chance at a better life.
"When I couldn't pay my debt I felt like I'd been thrown into the fire, and then someone rescued me — that was Kim. She has been so kind to me I'm ready to do whatever Kim says.”