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I don't remember where I first saw this picture, but I clearly remember the girl in it and her piercing sea green eyes.
Who is she? What happened to her?

Photo by Steve McCurry.

This famous picture was clicked by photographer, Steve McCurry, of that very young, simple and uniquely beautiful Afghan village girl in 1985 named Sharbat Gula.  She was only 12years old then.  The photo was so captivating that it made headlines in National Geographics and many other journals.

If you now follow the photos below of Sharbat when she was first photographed at age 12, and then again when Steve went to Afghanistan more than 16 years later, he again found Sharbat and photographed her with the permission of her husband.  By then Sharbat was in her late 20s or 30.  Still very, very young but her extremely hard life robbed her beauty and made her look years older than her age.  That's how easily beauty can be destroyed if one is unfortunate.

The girl became an orphan at age 6 during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.  She fled to a refugee camp in Pakistan with her 2 siblings and grandmother.  This refugee camp closed in 2002 and Sharbat returned to Afghanistan sometime before that.  She lives in the mountaineous Tora Bora region of Afghanistan.  

The Search for the Afghan Girl

A team from National Geographic, including photographer Steve McCurry went back to Pakistan to try and identify the girl from the 1984 picture. The team had no success until someone said he knew her brother. "The second I saw the color of her brother's eyes, I knew we had the right family," said a member of the team.

Sharbat Gula's brother. Photo by Steve McCurry.

After Sharbat's family granted permission for her to meet with the man who photographed her 17 years ago, McCurry knew immediately, even after so many years, that he had found her again. "Her eyes are as haunting now as they were then," he said.

She married and had four daughters, one of whom died in infancy. She has returned to anonymity and lives according to the customs and traditions of her culture and religion. She will not give another media interview and she wishes not to be contacted.

Photo by Steve McCurry. Beautiful children are all over the world, suffering every day, every minute.

What do we do to prevent it?

Steve McCurry and his team "finally located Gula, then around the age of 30, in a remote region of Afghanistan; she had returned to her native country from the refugee camp in 1992. Her identity was confirmed using biometric technology which matched her iris patterns to those of the photograph with almost full certainty. She vividly recalled being photographed—it was the first and only time she had ever had her picture taken. The fame and symbolic character of her portrait were completely unknown to her."

When Sharbat agreed to have her picture taken for the second time in her life, she came out from the secrecy to tell her story. She wanted the people around the world who knew her face to know that she survived the refugee camp in Pakistan. 

Before and after

Time and hardship.  Hers has been a hand-to-mouth existence. She had not been photographed since Steve McCurry made her portrait in 1984, and she only agreed to be photographed again—to appear unveiled, without her burka—because her husband told her it would be proper. She is a private woman, uncomfortable with the attention of strangers. A devout Muslim, she attributes her survival to the “will of God.” 

With her husband and 2 children.  She remembers her wedding day, when she was perhaps 16, as a happy one—possibly, her older brother told the Geographic team, the only happy day of her life. She became an orphan and refugee of war at about age six. Soviet bombing killed her parents, and her grandmother led her and her brother and sisters on foot, in winter, to Pakistan, where they lived in various camps. 

 McCurry’s image was made world-famous on the June 1985 cover of National Geographic, and is the magazine’s most recognisable photograph.