Can You Imagine? The Brutal Rights Violations of Afghanistan’s Girls
For women and girls in Afghanistan like Sahar Gul, violence continues to be a part of everyday life. An exclusive interview with Women for Women International’s Afghan County Director Sweeta Noori.
When my younger twin sisters were in their early teens, most of their time was consumed by the three Bs: boyfriends, best friends, and buying clothes. And let’s face it: so was most of ours. Many of us reminisce about those innocent years spent taking the laws and parental guidance that protected us for granted. But 7,000 miles away in Afghanistan, countless young girls have witnessed and experienced rights violations that are almost unimaginable to women in this country.
When 15-year-old Sahar Gul was rescued just days ago from the basement of her in-laws’ residence in the northern Baghlan province of Afghanistan, her hair and nails had been torn out, her fingers broken, and her body burned with hot irons.
Afghan officials told CNN that this monstrous act of torture was carried out by the girl’s husband and his family because she refused to become a prostitute. For six months, Gul’s 30-year-old husband and her in-laws kept her locked away in their underground chamber of horrors.
According to nonprofit organization Women for Women International’s Afghan County Director Sweeta Noori, this type of horrific abuse against women is occurring all too often in the country.
“Sahar Gul’s story is heartbreaking and, unfortunately, her experience is not uncommon in today’s Afghanistan,” Noori told BettyConfidential in an exclusive interview.
“Over a decade after the fall of the brutally oppressive Taliban regime, women in Afghanistan continue to live under a constant threat of violence, both within their homes and out in their communities,” said Noori. “Although the government has implemented laws to protect women, discriminatory practices in Afghanistan’s informal and formal justice systems has allowed violence against women to continue. Honor killings, early and forced marriages, and sexual abuse and slavery are still prevalent.”
Just how prevalent these acts of violence are might shock you. According to an Oxfam report released in October 2011, 87 percent of Afghan women have been victims of physical, sexual, or psychological assault or forced marriage. Meanwhile, the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission found that there were 1,026 reported cases of violence against women in the second quarter of 2011 alone. The year before, approximately 2,700 cases in total were reported.
And Gul’s story comes on the heels of another high profile case in Afghanistan. A woman known only as Gulnaz, now 21, was sentenced to 12 years in prison when she was a teen for being raped by her cousin’s husband –considered the crime of adultery in Afghanistan. After bearing her rapist’s child in prison, she agreed to wed the man to gain freedom for herself and the daughter conceived in the attack. President Hamid Karzai finally pardoned Gulnaz after she spent two years behind bars — where she gave birth to her daughter.
According to the BBC, half of the female prisoners in Afghanistan are in jail for so-called “moral crimes.”
Though women like Gulnaz have been brought up on charges for “dishonoring” their families by having sexual contact out of wedlock (even when forced), Gul’s marriage was never officially sanctioned by law in the first place. The legal age for marriage in Afghanistan is 16, but Gul’s family was nevertheless able to arrange their daughter’s wedding.
“This law is not strictly enforced,” Noori explained. “Nearly half of Afghan women are married before they turn 16. In a practice called baad, women and girls can be given away as brides to settle a family’s debts or pay for a relative’s crimes. Practices like these can be used to marry off young girls.”