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Yagana spends her days and nights on the streets of Herat city, begging passersby for money to feed her drug addiction. She doesn't know her exact age, although thinks she might be around 18 years old. She looks well into her thirties. My brother-in-law noticed this and told me that if smoked some opium I would feel better. As I was so innocent, I started to smoke and eventually became addicted. When my husband realised this, he fought with his brother but it was useless as I was already an addict.
That was at least six years ago. Cast out of her house, she now sleeps rough and is constantly at risk of abuse. Her husband has taken her for treatment at an addiction six times, but after each attempt she has gone back to using drugs. Officials in Herat province warn that rates of female addiction are rising, with one estimate putting the current rate of drug use as high as one in every three women.
Health professionals say that a major reason is the influence of a husband or other male authority figure within the family. Poverty is also a factor, as drugs are cheap and easily available, fuelled by the influx of returning refugees from neighbouring Iran where addiction rates are also high. Officials have registered between 60, and 70, addicts in Herat, out of which nearly 8, are women, although the real numbers may be much higher.
One of the problems is that accurate figures are hard to come by, although those working in the field say that anecdotal evidence clearly points to a growing problem.
Asif Kabir, head of Herat's public health department, estimated that addiction rates amongst women could be as high as 35 per cent. An extensive survey was needed to properly assess the situation, he noted, as the last ministry of public health study had been carried out in Kabir said that people had come to the Herat treatment centre during the last solar year, of them women. Ghulam Jilani Daqiq, head of counter-narcotics in Herat province, also said he believed addiction rates among women were rising, highlighting the Kuhsan and Ghoriyan districts as areas of particular concern.