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After the fall of the Taliban in , women were promised new freedoms. But now many are being forced into prostitution as a result of worsening poverty. Four years ago George W. Bush boasted of the liberation of the women of Afghanistan, but he may not have envisaged what that new freedom had in store for mother-of-three Zakia Khodum.
Zakia, 35, works as a prostitute. Under the Taliban, I would never have been able to do this. The only difference now is that I can work as a prostitute, so I guess I am free to do my work. I'm not happy with this job, but I have to do this because I have no choice," she says quietly. Dressed in a full-length blue burqa, only a glimpse of black leather high-heels can be seen.
She appears no different to the scores of other women milling past the Haji Keftan Zadran market in Kot-e-Sangi, south Kabul, hurrying along, arms laden with shopping bags, haggling with stallholders over the price of raisins and vegetables. Her finger nails are tinted with orange hues of faded henna, one of the increasing numbers of thousands of Afghan women and girls forced into the sex industry out of economic necessity.
I will try my best to make sure that no one finds out about me. As long as I can continue to keep it a secret, I will keep on doing it. I can do this up to the age of Then I don't know what [I will do]," she adds. Her voice is soft and her laughter rings out, echoing the jangle of the gold bangles which adorn her wrists.
Home for her is a two-room house she rents with her husband, year-old Sher, and three children Mashtaba, 11, Kausim, 9, and seven-year-old daughter Alima. She says her husband has suffered from breathing problems for years and cannot walk very far. Sher's illness and Zakia's inability to find a job - between 30 and 50 per cent of the nation's 30 million people are unemployed - forced her to start selling her body three years ago to feed her family. It wasn't always like this.