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Impoverished Afghan woman gives birth to sextuplets

MAZAR-E-SHARIF, Afghanistan (Reuters) - An impoverished young Afghan woman has given birth to sextuplets -- three boys and three girls -- producing the same number of children her countrywomen typically average over a lifetime.

Sara Gul, 22, from the northern Balkh province, said on Tuesday she tried to abort after learning she was pregnant with the brood of six, highlighting the country's poverty and ignorance surrounding birth control.

"I even jumped from a wall but nothing happened to them," Gul told Reuters in provincial capital Mazar-e-Sharif, where she gave birth -- her first -- late Monday.

Maternity ward doctor Abdul Rauf Ferogh confirmed the birth, saying five of the babies were healthy, while the last one was underweight and still in postnatal care.

Rare in nature, multiple births are often the result of medical fertility treatment, although the method does not exist in Afghanistan. Afghans take pride in having large families, but war, conflict and destitution means one in four children die before reaching the age of five.

"Allah blessed me with six children, but I am worried about their future," said Gul's 27-year-old husband Shukrullah, who is unemployed, like many others in the war-wracked country

The Ministry of Health warns Afghanistan's population of 30 million will double in as many years, stunting opportunities for economic growth in what is already one of the world's poorest nations.

Efforts to promote birth control by the government have been met with caution by aid groups who say introducing contraceptives would be extremely difficult in the ultra-conservative Muslim society, and opposition from Islamic scholars who say they are unlawful.

(Reporting by Bashir Ansari, writing by Amie Ferris-Rotman; Editing by Ed Lane)

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