Need for Survival Fuels Sex Work, High Birth Rate Kills Mothers in Afghanistan

Women and young girls are being pushed to commercial sex work due to high food prices and widespread unemployment in Afghanistan. High fertility rates, poor health services, and a high maternal mortality rate compound these issues.

Sex work is considered to be a serious crime in Afghanistan, where offenders can face the death penalty or lengthy prison sentences for engaging in sex outside of marriage. Fariba Majid, Director of the Balkh Province Women’s Affairs Department, calls sex work “an abhorrent deed and an appalling crime”, according to Irin News. However, many sex workers do not have other means to survive or feed their families.

Afghan women face high fertility rates and one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world. Only 14% of women receive skilled birthing attention during childbirth. Access to health services is limited by a lack of awareness, economic barriers, and men’s willingness to take women to health centers. One of six Afghan women will die from complications during pregnancy or childbirth; the average woman will have six or seven children.

Parental responsibility is often tied to sex work in Afghanistan. An Afghan prostitute, Najiba, told Irin News, “I am a widow and I have to feed my five children. I am illiterate and no one will give me a job. I hate to be a prostitute but if I stop doing this job my children will starve to death.”


Irin News 7/14/08, 7/16/08; Feminist Majority Foundation

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