“Don’t let your daughter take this pill, it’s the infidels’ plan to eradicate Muslims. These tablets are actually birth control pills. Share this message,” says a Facebook post that includes a photo of a packet of small pills. This post has been shared by hundreds of accounts since the beginning of March.
However, a quick look at the photo is enough to see that this supplement is in no way a birth control pill. As was noted in several different comments on the post, you can read the contents of the medicine on the label. It contains folic acid and iron. Both help with the production of red blood cells… but neither of these ingredients can prevent a pregnancy.
That didn’t stop numerous Afghans from posting this image on Facebook pages to “warn people”.
A nutritional supplement given to young girls in schools
The origins of these rumours aren’t clear. But this medicine is identifiable. It is actually a nutritional supplement distributed weekly in schools by the Afghan government and the American development agency USAID. Around a million girls between the ages of 10 and 19 are beneficiaries of the program.
However, the Facebook accounts that share conspiracy theories and fake news claim that if these packets are only distributed to girls, it is because, in reality, the little pills are for birth control.
Some find it suspicious that girls are apparently the only ones given supplements to prevent anaemia, saying that after all, boys can get anaemia, too.
The answer is simple. These iron tablets are given to girls starting at age 10 because menstrual cycles can lead to iron deficiencies.
In 2013, the Afghan Institute of Nutrition estimated that anaemia was a “severe public health problem” in Afghanistan. More than 40 percent of Afghan women of reproductive age suffer from it. The global average is roughly half that, with about 21.8 percent of women affected.