The following are excerpts from a U.N. report released Thursday on the human rights situation in Afghanistan for women and girls. The report was prepared by the human rights division of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA).
“A 20-year-old pregnant woman set herself on fire in Panjsher province in July 2009. Before she died, she explained to UNAMA HR that she had endured daily beatings from her husband and abuse from her sisters-in-law since her marriage in 2007. On the day of the incident, her husband had accused her of not being virgin on their wedding day. She poured kerosene over herself and set herself alight. She died of her injuries a few days later.
In Nimroz province, in May 2010, a 13-year-old girl died after dousing herself with petrol and setting herself on fire. She had been married when she was 10-years old and reportedly found life with her husband and his family intolerable.
In one case reported to UNAMA HR in Herat province, a 14-year-old girl who was engaged at the age of two and married at 10 to her cousin tried to kill herself four times due to the domestic violence she faced; her cousin refused to grant her a divorce.
In 2007, provincial health authorities in the western city of Herat established a special burns unit. It handles eight to 10 self immolation cases a month, 40 per cent more than in 2009. The doctors estimate there are likely an equal number of cases in the province they do not see, as such incidents occur far from the city, or the victims are left to die. One woman was found by accident 15 days after she had set herself alight; she had been raped by her father-in-law and brother-in-law and wanted to die. The vast majority of victims are women aged 15 to 25; most are poor and illiterate. The doctor in charge of the unit explained, “Forced marriages lead to problems. Young women married to old men, sold, swapped for sheep or even opium. Sometimes girls are engaged to babies.” These women are under pressure from “abusive husbands and equally from women, mainly mothers-in-law. They sometimes go to mullahs and community councils to ask for help, but even there they face humiliation and abuse.”
One woman was found by accident 15 days after she had set herself alight; she had been raped by her father-in-law and brother-in-law and wanted to die.
UNAMA HR investigated an incident in Farah province involving a 14-year-old girl who was abducted and forcibly married when she was 9-years old. The girl said that her father-in-law beat her because she refused to have sex with him. Her husband and mother-in-law also abused her because they believed she engaged in sexual relations with her father-in-law. UNAMA HR officers interviewed the girl and saw that she had two broken fingers and that oil had been poured on her body (allegedly by her father-in-law), her feet had also been burnt (allegedly by her mother-in-law). She also claimed that her husband had tied and hung her by her hands for one night.
In April 2010, the father and brother of a 15-year-old girl from Ghoryan district, Herat province, beat her when she refused to accept a forced marriage. She ran away from home. On the same day, unknown men in a car picked her up, raped her and released her on the street after several hours. An elder reported the incident to the district police who transferred the girl to a safe house for her own protection.
In January 2009, a 20-year-old woman, from Darqad district, Takhar province, who was engaged under baad at the age of four, sought protection from the Department of Women’s Affairs in Taloqan to avoid the forced marriage. After two months, DoWA, facing threats from local community elders and politicians, sent the girl to the district court in Darqad for a decision on the legality of the marriage. As the court session was about to start, a group of some 300 people who supported the forced marriage, attacked the district complex compound, abducted the girl and forcibly took her to her in-laws’ house. All efforts by UNAMA HR to contact the woman failed and her whereabouts remain unknown.
Baad (baad dadan) Giving away a girl or woman in marriage as blood price to settle a conflict over murder or a perceived affront to honour.
In October 2009, a 16-year-old girl from Logar province was forcibly engaged to a 65-year-old man. According to the girl, the man insisted on visiting her at her family home prior to the marriage, claiming that he had given the girl’s father a vast amount of money and was entitled to see her. During this time, the girl called a local radio station and discussed her problem with the male host. She and the male host became friends and continued to call each other. Later they both fled Logar and on their way to Laghman province where they intended to get married, police arrested them in Nangarhar province on charges of zina. The man was convicted to 13 years imprisonment and the girl to five years. The girl was reportedly raped while in detention. UNAMA HR learned that the 65- year-old man demanded another girl in “compensation” and the girl’s father gave his younger daughter, aged 14 or 15, in marriage to the man.
When Aisha was 12 years-old, her father reportedly gave her and her younger sister away in marriage to settle a blood debt; her uncle had allegedly killed a relative of the man Aisha was sent to marry. At the husband’s house, the in-laws housed the girls with the livestock, used them like slaves and beat them frequently for their uncle’s crime. Aisha fled but her husband caught her and sliced off both her ears and her nose as punishment, leaving her bleeding and unconscious. (A man shamed by his wife is said to have lost his nose, so it seems that Aisha was punished in kind.) Aisha managed to survive the attack; Afghan women’s organizations assisted her and eventually she travelled to the USA for reconstructive surgery. Her 10-year-old sister remains in Uruzgan with the abusive in-laws.
In one high-profile case, reported in May 2010, involving two girls aged 13 and 14 from Ghor province who were reportedly forced into a marriage exchange, each girl was given to an elderly man in the others family. The girls’ husbands reportedly beat them when they tried to resist consummating the unions. Police picked up the girls and reportedly returned them to their remote village, where local mullahs and a former warlord publicly flogged them for daring to run away. The case was exposed when a video of the flogging was smuggled out of the district. The two girls were very fortunate, as eventually they were declared divorced and sent home.
Some honour killings seem to have the approval of entire communities. In August 2010 in Bamyan province, a girl died under suspicious circumstances the day after her wedding. The new husband reportedly took the girl back to her father’s house on the wedding night, saying that she was not a virgin. She died in her father’s house the next day. The police informed UNAMA HR that they started an inquiry but threats from local community members prevented them from investigating further. A team that included the head of the provincial criminal investigation department then visited the crime scene, but local people also prevented them from investigating the death. Following this, the authorities have taken no further action.
Police in Jalalabad…arrested and detained a 17-year-old girl when they discovered her alone in a hotel room accusing her of intending to commit adultery (zina). UNAMA HR’s investigation found that the girl had been forced to marry at the age of 13, denied an education, was ill treated by her in-laws and forbidden to leave the house even to visit her own family.
“Forced marriage is not a harmful tradition in our culture. I know my daughter’s best interests and since she does not leave the house, she does not understandthe world and it will not be possible or acceptable for her to choose her own husband. She has no right to select her own husband and I am in the best position to choose for her.” (Interview with male member of Faryab Provincial Council, April 2010)
“If you hit a girl with your hat and she doesn’t fall over, it’s time to marry her.” -saying quoted during discussion with group of Afghan women, Chimtal district, Balkh province, April 2010.
Adolescent pregnancy is one of the leading causes of high maternal mortality. Girls who give birth before the age of 15, at an age when their bodies are not ready for childbirth, are five times more likely to die during pregnancy and childbirth than women in their 20s.
Afghanistan has the worst maternal mortality rate in the world. It is linked to early marriage, frequent pregnancies, and lack of awareness linked to low levels of literacy, among other factors. This amounts to around 24,000 deaths per year, many of them girls under the age of 18. A child born to a girl under the age of 18 has a 60 per cent greater chance of dying in the first year of life. In Afghanistan, maternal mortality represents ten times more deaths (24,000 per annum) than conflict-related civilian deaths (UNAMA HR recorded 2,412 conflict-related civilian deaths in 2009159).
Early marriage harms not only the girl child but also the infant she bears. Premature birth, low birth weight and poor mental and physical growth are frequent characteristics of babies born to young mothers.
Many women and medical personnel interviewed by UNAMA HR said that child brides often have little or no experience or understanding of how to care for newborn babies. They mentioned incidents where young inexperienced mothers accidentally burned or suffocated babies…Medical practitioners described to UNAMA HR the gynaecological problems that arise from early sex and childbirth. They include vaginal laceration, ruptured uterus, and urethra-vaginal fistula.
The adult literacy rate for all Afghans over 15 years old is 28 per cent; for women alone it is 12.6 per cent. Girls who marry as children almost never continue with their education...Girls with eight or more years of education are less likely to marry young than girls with zero to three years of school. Compulsory education up until the age of 16 significantly decreases the chances of early marriage.
In 2009, the Khost health department reported a case to UNAMA HR where it admitted to hospital a 17-year-old girl whose father had attempted to cut her throat after she refused to marry a man he had selected. Authorities took no criminal action against the girl’s father, treating the case as a private family dispute.”