Rape victim faces honour killing

Honour killings in rape cases are common in Afghanistan, and are often more important to the victim’s family than vengeance against the attacker

It was bad enough that the alleged rape took place in the sanctity of a mosque and that the accused man was a mullah who invoked the familiar defence that it had been consensual sex.

But the victim was only 10 years old. And there was more: The authorities said her family members openly planned to carry out an honour killing in the case — against the young girl. The mullah offered to marry his victim instead.

This past week, the awful matter became even worse. On Tuesday, local policemen removed the girl from the shelter that had given her refuge and returned her to her family, despite complaints from women’s activists that she was likely to be killed.

The case has broader repercussions. The head of the Women for Afghan Women shelter here where the girl took refuge, Dr. Hassina Sarwari, was at one point driven into hiding by death threats from the girl’s family and other mullahs, who sought to play down the crime by arguing the girl was much older than 10. One militia commander sent Dr. Sarwari threatening texts and an ultimatum to return the girl to her family. The doctor said she now wanted to flee Afghanistan.

The head of the women’s affairs office in Kunduz, Nederah Geyah, who actively campaigned to have the young girl protected from her family and the mullah prosecuted, resigned on May 21 and moved to another part of the country.

The case itself would just be an aberrant atrocity, except that the resulting support for the mullah, and for the girl’s family and its honour killing plans, have become emblematic of a broader failure to help Afghan women.

The result challenges hopes that Western aid and encouragement can make lasting headway on behalf of Afghan women, particularly in remote parts of the country where traditional customs are still stronger than modern law. Here, Taliban insurgents and pro-government elements often make common cause in their hatred of progress in women’s rights, most of which has come about with international funding and pressure.

Most of the anger in Kunduz has been focused not on the mullah but on the women’s activists and the shelter, which is one of seven operated across Afghanistan by Women for Afghan Women (WAW), an Afghan-run charity that is heavily dependent on American aid, from both government and private donors.

The accused mullah, Mohammad Amin, was arrested and confessed to having sex with the girl after Koran recitation classes at the mosque on May 1, but he claimed that he thought the girl was older and that she responded to his advances.

After the two women’s officials began speaking out about the case, they started receiving threatening calls from mullahs — some of them Taliban, others on the government side — and from arbakai, or pro-government militiamen. One of their claims was that the girl was actually 17, and thus of marriageable age, not 10.

Photographs of the girl that Dr. Sarwari took in the hospital clearly show a pre-pubescent child, and the doctor said the girl weighed only 40 pounds.

Honour killings in rape cases are common in Afghanistan, and are often more important to the victim’s family than vengeance against the attacker. Human rights groups say about 150 honour killings a year come to light, and many more probably go unreported.

When Dr. Sarwari, who is a paediatrician, arrived to pick up the girl at the hospital, a crowd of village elders from Alti Gumbad, the girl’s home village on the outskirts of the city of Kunduz, were gathered outside the hospital; the girl’s brothers, father and uncle were among them. Inside, Dr. Sarwari encountered the girl’s aunt. “She said they wanted to take her and kill her, and dump her in the river,” Dr. Sarwari said. In the hospital room, the doctor found the girl’s mother holding her child’s hand, and both were weeping. “My daughter, may dust and soil protect you now,” Dr. Sarwari quoted the mother as saying. “We will make you a bed of dust and soil. We will send you to the cemetery where you will be safe.” — New York Times News Service
A link to the article can be found here.

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Aug