Saturday, 7 January 2012

Girls Who Ran From Hell

Female trafficking for sexual purposes is a thriving business in Afghanistan. Girls are purchased from within Afghanistan and trafficked through Pakistan for destinations in the Gulf, Iran, and elsewhere to be wives or prostitutes.

If you still think the evil mother-in-law exists only in Cinderella Stories and fairytales, you’ve got to listen to this shocking piece of news from Afghanistan.

Just before New Year’s Day, Sahar Gul, a 15-year-old teen bride who got married 6 months ago got rescued by the Afghan police after 5 months of being tortured.

Badakhshan, a province in northeast of Afghanistan carries an important part of the country's cultural heritage. The main religion of Badakhshan is Islam. Surprising as it may be, prostitution has been the means of earning money for the Muslim family whom Sahar started living within Baghlan. She was brought to Baghlan to live with her husband but soon things changed for her.

She  was beaten and locked up in a toilet for more than five months after she defied her in-laws who tried to force her into prostitution. Despite being deeply religious and one of the most conservative countries in the world, where sex outside marriage is against the law, prostitution activities are reported in the capital Kabul as well as in the Mazar-e-Sharif area in the north of the country.

She was beaten up practically every day. Her mother-in-law and sister-in-law ripped her fingernails out, tortured her with hot irons and cigarettes, and broke her fingers.

After six months of fighting with the officials to filling a missing case for their daughter, her parents convinced the police to look for her. Police freed her but 5 months of torture in a toilet in a dark basement can be enough to drive a little teenager crazy. 

The case has shocked Afghanistan. President Hamid Karzai has said that whoever used violence against Gul will be punished. Of course, he might be punished. But this brings up a very pertinent question:"Will punishing the arrested people in connection with the case, stop the other possible ones?"

Child marriage affects girls badly in many ways. It blocks them from education and any possibility of independent work. It subjects them to pregnancy and childbirth before they have reached physical maturity, a circumstance that often produces serious physical trauma, psychological disturbance, and sometimes lifelong physical and emotional incapacities. As long as brides are properties of their husbands and the husband's family and as long as laws of forced marriage after being raped exist, Islamic countries are no safe places to be a girl.

It wasn't a long time ago that two Afghan girls were lashed by an authority in Herat, just because they had said no to getting married.

Considering the cultural and historical background of the city and all the people with different colors and religions, Herat has to be the best city of Afghanistan for a battered girl. Although Herat has shelters for runaway women and girls, when the girls dressed as boys and ran from their hometown to start a new life, the police instead contacted the former warlord, Fazil Ahad Khan, a cruel moral enforcer and returned them to his custody.

Fazil Ahmad Khan, the Mullah, who in Islamic texts has to be a well-educated man and the guardian or the master of Muslims, sentenced the girls to 40 lashes. Another mullah struck the girls with straps but not in the way that it has been said in Islamic textbooks of law and punishment. He aimed at their legs and buttocks and not their backs. There were no woman spectators, only men with guns. It was as though everyone was afraid of these innocent girls who had nothing to defend themselves with.

After the shameful event, the audience stood behind mullah and said "Well Done, mullah" and he led them in prayer afterward. After Human Rights started to investigate the case, the governor promised to take action but the place was not safe and the police was not send.

It seems like mullah is more powerful than the governor and the police in Afghanistan.
Regarding marriage, Islamic officials agree that:
  • There should be adulthood and sanity of both parties
  • In case of non-adulthood, guardianship of father or grandfather is required for marriage.
  • Father and grandfather are proprietors of their children and can marry them off.
A girl is said to attain adulthood when she starts menstruating, 9 years, while according to International Law it has to be 18.

Forcing women into an already failed marriage is one of the most common crimes against girls and women yet there are worse cases we don’t even know about. As long as girls are being sold by their families -usually fathers- and being exchanged easier than materials, the story will continue.

Good news last; WAW (Women for Afghan Women) has been fighting for women and their rights in Afghanistan for 10 years. Although the community is still young, the projects they are handling are big and strong. Children's Support Center takes care of more than 50 children who have run away from early marriages or children who seek education.

WAW supports seven shelters all around the country. We harbor women in danger of being murdered for shaming the family, women and girls who have been sold or "paid" to other families as restitution for crimes, forced into marriage, forbidden to marry someone they love. You name the violation, we have examples of it.

Every single day, women are sent behind the bars just because they have no husband to accompany them outside their house. In Afghanistan, most women in prison have committed no crime. Running away from abuse and being accused of adultery are the most common crimes that women are being charged of. Most of the prisoners have gotten married at ages 12, 13 or 14.WAW's Halfway Houses serve women coming out of prison. 

What has to be done?
Because child marriage is a customary practice in Afghan culture, leadership must come from Afghan nationals. It is suggested that the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, and the Ministry of Education, with the support of agencies such as UNIFEM and UNICEF take the lead.

By Elaheh Zohrevandi

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