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When year-old Fatima returned to her home in northern Afghanistan after years as a refugee in Iran, she struggled desperately to earn a living. She briefly found work with an NGO, before being let go, and then spent two months learning how to weave carpets, before the factory shut down and she was again out on the streets of Mazar-i-Sharif. Determined to support her mother, two sisters and young brother, she turned to a profession that has long been practised the world over but remains deeply suppressed in conservative Afghanistan -- prostitution.
And there is anecdotal evidence, supported by doctors concerned about the potential for the spread of HIV and AIDS, that more and more young women across northern regions of Afghanistan are turning to sex work to escape grinding poverty.
Nasrin, a stylish year-old dressed in a white burqa but wearing fashionable jeans underneath, works as a prostitute in Kunduz, east of Mazar-i-Sharif. She says she was urged by her mother to take up the work as there was no other way for the family to earn a living. One day she encouraged me to have sex with a man who came to our house.
Others are more satisfied with their work, even if they acknowledge it means a normal life is out of the question. I really want to live like the others do. But who will marry me? While Afghanistan's strict Islamic law forbids prostitution, there are signs the work is taking formal root, with brothels operating in some cities and pimps managing prostitutes. Bribes take care of unwanted police attention.
For clients, paying for sex gives them easy access to women that they otherwise would not be able to meet or could only have contact with if they were married -- a costly exercise in itself. I have their telephone numbers and invite them to many places.