A 10-year girl in Afghanistan is in danger of being honor-killed by her family after being violently raped by a mullah in a local mosque after her Quran class. After the family openly talked about killing the girl, the mullah offered to marry her, claiming to the authorities that he thought the girl was 17 and that the sex was consensual.
After nearly dying from her injuries sustained during the rape due to a delay in medical care, “Women for Afghan Women,” a shelter for battered women and children arranged for the girl to be taken to a hospital. Her injuries included a severing of the wall between her vagina and rectum that caused hemorrhaging.
After her recovery, she was taken to a women’s shelter to protect her from her family.
Pictures taken of the girl to document the case show a small, pre-pubescent child whose weight at the time was about 40 pounds (about 18 kilos), according to the doctor.
Last week, the police were given orders to return the girl to her family, despite the fact that she will most likely be killed. Tuesday, the police entered the shelter and took the girl.
“I went to the hospital when they brought her there. I was sitting next to her bed when I overheard her mother and aunt saying that her father was under tremendous pressure by the villagers to kill the girl because she had brought shame to them,” said Nederah Geyah, who is the head of the women’s affairs office in Kunduz, Afghanistan.
Honor killings of girls who have been raped are common in Afghanistan, as family members believe that the raped girl brings shame to the family. Moreover, a girl who has been raped is considered not fit to be married and therefore must be supported by her family.
Dr. Hassina Sarwari, who is head of the shelter and a pediatrician, said when she arrived at the hospital to take the girl to the shelter, she encounter a large group of elders from the girl’s village. The group included male members of the girl’s family – her father, her brothers and an uncle.
Once inside, she met the girl’s aunt, who told the doctor she had been told by her husband to smuggle the girl out of the hospital and deposit her into the hands of the family outside.
“She said they wanted to take her and kill her, and dump her in the river,” Dr. Sarwari said. The doctor made her way to the girl’s room, where she found the girl and her mother holding hands and crying.
Dr. Sarwari remembers the mother’s word: “My daughter, may dust and soil protect you now,” she said. “We will make you a bed of dust and soil. We will send you to the cemetery where you will be safe.”
With the help of Geyah, the girl was rescued from her family and placed in the shelter. Geyah also helped initiate legal proceedings against the mullah. After publicizing the case, both women were threatened with death by the mullahs as well as the girl’s family. A militia commander demanded that the doctor return the girl to her family or face the consequences.
At one point, Dr. Sarwari was forced to go into hiding. Geyah has since resigned her job and moved to a different part of the country. Dr. Sarwari has said she wants to leave the country altogether.
Ironically, pressure has also come from locals who are angry at the shelter – not at the mullahs or the family. The shelter, which is one of seven in Afghanistan, is perceived as a tool of the Americans to destroy traditional Afghani culture.
Although the shelter does receive American aid money, no Americans work at the shelter. “W.A.W. is not American-run,” said Manizha Naderi, the shelter’s executive director. “Every single staff member is an Afghan. They are from the communities we work in. Our only concern is to make sure women and girls are protected and that they get justice.”
Geyah says that as the Americans prepare to leave, funding for the shelter as well as other progressive programs are starting to dry up. “We already see the signs of losing the support of the international community,” said Geyah, speaking in an interview before she left the job. “No one’s funding new civil society programs anymore. None of the foreigners show up anymore; they’re all in hiding. And I think what gains we have achieved the last 13 years, we’re slowly losing all of them.”
Dr. Sarwari says the police are cooperating with the mullah and the girl’s family. “There are a lot of powerful people behind the mullah,” she said. “The girl is easy. They can get to her; she’s their daughter.”
Meanwhile, authorities say, “The girl’s family gave us a guarantee that they would not harm her,” according to Sayed Sarwar Hussaini, who is in charge of the Kunduz police criminal investigation division. “We would not hand her back unless we were sure.”
Somehow that claim rings hollow in Afghanistan’s honor-based society.