Fury follows mosque rape of a girl aged 10
But it’s aimed at the Afghan victim and those who stepped in to protect her from an ‘honour’ killing
THE mullah at the centre of the case – Mohammad Amin – denied rape, saying the sex was consensual, and when it was revealed that the girl’s family intended killing the victim, he offered to marry her instead.
According to this New York Times report by Rod Nordland, matters became even worse when local police in Kunduz 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 head of the Women for Afghan Women shelter 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 (pictured above showing a photo of the victim) 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 honor killing plans, have become emblematic of a broader failure to help Afghan women who have been victims of violence.
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.
The accused mullah was arrested and confessed to having sex with the girl after Koran recitation classes at the mosque on May 1, but claimed that he thought the girl was older and that she responded to his advances.
The girl’s own testimony, and medical evidence, supported a rape so violent that it caused a fistula, or a break in the wall between the vagina and rectum, according to the police and the official bill of indictment. She bled so profusely after the attack that she was at one point in danger of losing her life because of a delay in getting medical care.
After Nederah Geyah and Dr Sarwari 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. Few Afghans have birth records, and many do not know their precise ages. But the girl’s mother said she was 10, and a forensic examination in the hospital agreed, saying she had not yet started menstruating or developing secondary sexual characteristics.
In the photographs, which Dr Sarwari displayed on her laptop computer recently, the girl has beautiful alabaster features and inky black hair cut in a pageboy style. She lay in her hospital bed under a quilted blanket with cartoon characters on it.
When Dr Sarwari, who is a pediatrician, 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, who told her she had been ordered by her husband to sneak the girl out of the hospital and deliver her to the male relatives outside.
She said they wanted to take her and kill her, and dump her in the river.
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.
Sayed Sarwar Hussaini, head of the Kunduz police criminal investigation division, said:
The girl’s family gave us a guarantee that they would not harm her. We would not hand her back unless we were sure.
Dr. Sarwari has accused prosecutors and religious officials of siding with the accused rapist and ignoring the child’s plight.
“There are a lot of powerful people behind the mullah,” Dr Sarwari said. The girl’s family knows they cannot do anything to Mr Amin, she said, but:
The girl is easy. They can get to her; she’s their daughter.
She said she feared the girl would either be killed, or forced to recant her accusations against the mullah.
“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 honor killings a year come to light, and many more probably go unreported.
Hat tip: Trevor Blake.