Afghan rape victim forced to marry

2011-12-17 18:54

Kabul - She was jailed for adultery after being raped, then pardoned and set free. But now her brothers are threatening to kill her and with nowhere else to go, Gulnaz is resigned to marrying her attacker.

Gulnaz, who does not know her exact age, but is 20 or 21, spoke in a quiet voice with her blue burqa pushed up over her face. Her baby daughter, the child of her rapist, played on the floor at her feet.

"I have to marry him, I need a father for my child. I need somebody to take care of my daughter and give us a home," she said.

"I don't have any other place to live. My brothers have vowed to kill me and my attacker and my daughter."

Gulnaz was freed from prison on Tuesday, two years after she was jailed for a so-called moral crime - being raped by her cousin's husband.

Persecution

President Hamid Karzai pardoned her on December 1 following an international outcry, but even then it was almost two weeks before she was released.

And now, in ultra-conservative Afghanistan, she faces great pressure to marry the man who attacked her, to provide security for her baby and restore family honour.

Campaigners describe such persecution, all too common in Afghanistan, as a "remnant of the Taliban era" highlighting the poor state of women's rights, 10 years after the US-led invasion sought to put the country on a democratic path.

Gulnaz was jailed after reporting the rape to the police.

"I petitioned and asked the government to arrest the man, but they arrested me. Why was I put in jail innocently?" she said.

"I don't know why we have this kind of government here; they don't even care about a poor woman. I brought up the case to seek justice but I was put in jail."

Gulnaz was raising her child in a prison cell in Kabul. And although she was released, she is still confined. With fears for her safety, she has moved to a women's shelter in a secret location.

Second class citizens

Her US lawyer, Kimberley Motley, said Gulnaz was "trying to figure out the best way she can protect herself and her daughter".

But with her attacker still in jail for another five years, it will be even harder for Gulnaz to marry and move on.

"Unfortunately the culture quite often decides that even if a woman is violated or a victim the best way to find protection is to embrace their attacker and marry them," Motley said.

"Often women are treated as second class citizens and don't have a voice. The best way is to have a male figure to protect them and I think Gulnaz is wrestling with those issues."

She said by issuing the pardon, Karzai and the prosecutor's office recognised that rape victims were not to be persecuted.

"But unfortunately this is the remnant of a Taliban era which still has an influence in Afghan culture," Motley said.

There is little sign that violence against women in Afghanistan is decreasing, despite billions of dollars of international aid which has poured into the country during the decade-long war.

Attention

The Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission logged 1 026 cases of violence against women in the second quarter of 2011 compared with 2 700 cases for the whole of 2010.

Some 87% of Afghan women report having experienced physical, sexual or psychological violence or forced marriage, according to figures quoted in an October report by the British charity Oxfam.

In November, the UN said that a landmark law aiming to protect women against violence in Afghanistan had been used to prosecute just over 100 cases since being enacted two years ago.

Gulnaz was grateful for the attention her case has received. Others are not so lucky.

"I'm not afraid. He has accepted me, and I have also accepted him," she said.

"I want to send my daughter to school; I want her to become a doctor."

Read more on:    afghanistan
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