Since the Taliban took over Afghanistan in August 2021, the country’s economic and humanitarian situation has worsened.

Only five percent of Afghan families have enough food to eat every day.

Millions of dollars in international aid have also been halted due to sanctions imposed on the Taliban.

Amid this desperation are countless stories of survival.

Here are some of the people behind the numbers:

Internally displaced people

According to the UNHCR, there were an estimated 3.5 million internally displaced people (IDPs) across Afghanistan at the end of 2021.

Leila Habibi is a mother of four, widowed and an internally displaced person.

She and her children live in an IDP camp 5km (3 miles) outside of Qala-e-Naw - about 155km (96 miles) northeast of Herat. Originally from Laman Valley, some 40km (25 miles) south of Qala-e-Naw, Leila has been displaced for four years.

Her house was destroyed during fighting between the Taliban and the previous government. In Qala-e-Naw her family begs for food and money to survive, exchanging aid items for food.

“Nothing else matters if my children cannot eat, and right now, my family barely eats. We will sell whatever we can find for food.” - Leila Habibi

Child marriage

According to Amnesty International’s research, the rates of child, early and forced marriage in Afghanistan are surging under Taliban rule.

In March 2022, UNICEF stated that there were elevated rates of child marriage in cities, rural areas and among internally displaced families.

Raihana Mirzai is a 10-year-old student engaged to be married to her 20-year-old cousin.

She was promised to her relative after her 13-year-old brother got into an accident.

The hospital debts were too much for her parents to manage on their own, so her cousin’s parents stepped in to pay them off.

“It’s not important if I’m happy or not. This is my family’s decision, and I want to help my brother.” - Raihana Mirzai

Hosnia Mirza Zada is six years old and lives with her mother and four-year-old sister in Gozar Gah, Herat.

Her father was recruited by the previous government to fight against the Taliban, but he never returned.

Her mother lost her teaching job after teenage girls were banned from schools and has been unable to find work.

Their family has entered a spiral of poverty, so much so that her mother is considering selling her.

“Two months after the Taliban takeover, we faced many challenges. I was worried I couldn’t even afford to feed my children. I cannot accept selling my daughter, so we will try to survive for now.” - Hosnia's mother, Fatiha Mirza Zada


More than 20 million people - half of Afghanistan’s population - are suffering “crisis” or “emergency” levels of food insecurity according to the World Food Programme (WFP)

Abdulrahim Mirzai, his wife and eight children left their village in the Adraskan district four years ago amid continued fighting between the previous government and the Taliban.

They relocated to Shaidan, an IDP camp outside of Herat to the east. While they managed to find peace in their new home, Abdulrahim could not maintain a consistent income because of his back problems.

He sent his 13-year-old son Mansor to work as a rubbish collector. Mansor ended up in a near-fatal accident, so Abdulrahim and his wife promised off their second daughter Raihana into child marriage to pay off the hospital debts and to survive.

“If one day I can find the money, we will cancel my daughter’s marriage arrangement. But right now, we need the money [from the dowry] for our other children to survive.” - Abdulrahim Mirzai

Girls' education and poverty

According to the United Nations, in April 2022 about 95 percent of the population in Afghanistan did not have enough food to eat.

Families are forced into selling or marrying off their daughters, to afford food or to feed fewer mouths.

Mah Bibi Jamshidi is 15 years old and will be married this year to her father’s 36-year-old cousin, a Bolani vendor in Kabul.

Her marriage was arranged when she was 12. Based on cultural traditions, when she is married, she will stay home, as it is tradition for girls to focus instead on building their families instead of working or going to school.

She mourns her 17-year-old sister Aziz Gul, who also entered into an arranged marriage, and was recently the victim of presumed domestic violence that proved fatal.

“I’ve had to marry all my daughters away because of poverty.” - Mah Bibi's mother, Aalum Gul

Child labour

An estimated one million children are currently engaged in child labour in Afghanistan as family incomes have plummeted, according to a study by Save the Children.

Mansor Mirzai, 13, was one of the family’s primary breadwinners, collecting rubbish for 100 afghanis (about $1) daily.

One day in May 2021, he ended up in a near-fatal accident. He was clinging to the side of the rubbish truck when it turned onto a bumpy road. He lost his grip, fell on the road, and was struck by an oncoming motorcycle.

Doctors in Herat were able to revive him, but he lost his eyesight and some brain functionality. His 10-year-old sister Raihana is being sold into marriage to pay off his hospital bills.

“I’m happy I am alive, but I wish my sister were not engaged. If it were my decision, I would not allow this to happen. I hope we could pay off my debts ourselves.” - Mansor Mirzai

Photography by

Matt Reichel and Robyn Huang

Produced by

Alia Chughtai and Hanna Duggal

for @AJLabs