Friday, December 10, 2010

Afghan abuse

http://news.scotsman.com/news/A-decade-on-from-Taleban.6655969.jp
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« Previous « PreviousNext » Next »View GalleryPublished Date: 10 December 2010
By JEROME STARKEY
in KABUL
Hundreds of Afghan women have suffered horrific mutilations at the hands of their own families while half of all Afghan girls get married aged 15 or younger, the United Nations and human rights activists have said.
At the launch of a shocking report on women's rights the UN said at least half of the female prison population had been jailed for so-called moral crimes, such as running away from abusive husbands, despite there being no basis in Afghan law for the
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Almost a decade after the collapse of the Taleban and a full year after laws were introduced to crack down on violence against women, the report warned medieval practices remained widespread.

Referring to the high-profile case of a teenage girl whose husband sliced off her ears and nose as a punishment for running away, Ahmad Fahim Hakim, deputy chairman of Afghanistan's independent human rights commission, said: "For sure, there are hundreds of Bibi Aishas in our country."

The 17-year-old from Oruzgan province, in southern Afghanistan, was flown to California for reconstructive surgery after her portrait appeared on the front cover of Time magazine, sparking an international outcry.

Georgette Gagnon, director of human rights at the UN mission in Afghanistan, said millions of Afghan women and girls had suffered pain, humiliation and marginalisation as a result of ingrained cultural practices exacerbated by 30 years of instability, poverty and war.

Bibi Aisha was the lucky one, Mr Hakim said, because most cases went unreported. For many women their only escape was suicide, often from excruciatingly painful self-immolation.

The practice of Baad, whereby young women are exchanged between families to avenge previous crimes including murder, was particularly criticised.

"Instead of the murderer being punished, an innocent girl is punished and she has to spend her whole life in slavery," said Ms Gagnon.

Women exchanged under Baad are forever associated with the crime they are supposed to have appeased and treated accordingly. "Sometimes she is forced to sleep with animals in the barn," Ms Gagnon added.

While President Hamid Karzai has spoken about the need to empower Afghan women, activists said there remained a stark gap between words and deeds. In 2009 he signed legislation that effectively legalised rape within marriage and banned women from leaving the house without their husband's permission.

In a bid to appease conservatives and improve his supporters chances in this year's parliamentary elections, he also tried to change the law which guarantees women a set number of seats in parliament.

The report said: "57 per cent of Afghan marriages are child marriages - where one partner is under the age of 16".

A study of 200 underage marriages found most of the betrothed were well below 16, with 40 per cent aged 10-13.

Activists are particularly concerned that progress towards improving women's rights since 2001 will be sacrificed in the rush for a peace settlement, which will likely involve negotiations with the Taleban.

The hardline mullahs who ruled Afghanistan until 2001 were infamous for banning women from working, or leaving the home without male relatives to escort them.

"As long as women are subject to practices that harm, degrade and deny them their human rights, little meaningful and sustainable progress for women's rights can be achieved in Afghanistan," Ms Gagnon said.

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