I’m not sure that this family technically qualifies as women’s activists, but they at least deserve an honorable mention.
Broadsheet has highlighted an Afghan family who broke taboo to report their young daughter’s rape. I’m sure that most of you are aware of the fact that in many cultures, rape is seen as an embarrassment to the entire family, rarely reported to authorities and often ends in “honor killings,” marrying the victim off to her rapist, or disavowal by the family.
This case is particularly heinous. It involves two brothers from another family (18 and 24 years old) who raped a 7 year-old-girl until she lost consciousness. Two months after the attack, the girl is still in pain and anti-social. But what makes this horrible crime different from so many others is that her family actually reported it, and are fighting for the rights of their daughter in court.
Rape is not uncommon in Afghanistan, but victims rarely come forward because a girl or woman losing her virginity out of wedlock is seen as disgracing her entire family.
Because the crime is seldom reported, there are no reliable statistics on the number of young girls raped, Anwari said. She said it was the second such case in Ghazni this year.
“It’s not reported because of family honor. It’s very unusual that they’re bringing this forward,” said Naderi of Women for Afghan Women.
“No one in Afghanistan wants anyone to know their daughter has been raped because a girl’s virginity is so highly valued here. If a girl loses her virginity for any reason … she’s not a girl anymore. She’s a woman. Unmarriageable.”
Families and local elders often take the matter into their own hands and resort to traditional tribal laws, which commonly punish girls for the crimes of their male relatives. Under Afghan law, the sentence for raping a child is life imprisonment.
Zafar said the brothers’ relatives offered a 6-year-old girl as a future bride to compensate the victim’s family, who rejected the offer.
Erfani said another proposal was that the 7-year-old girl marry a young male relative of the brothers to salvage her honor. The girl’s family also turned down this suggestion, he said.
Bravo to this family. I’m sure that they are not the first in similar circumstances to have had the courage to step forward. But their actions are still unusual. In a culture with so much cultural pressure to remain silent and/or even punish the victim, this takes courage.
This is how progress begins. We can hope all we like for rape to stop, but I am sadly confident that it won’t until we begin to see reliable justice against rapists. Community members will talk about this family. A lot, probably most, will be negative. But maybe others who wanted to step forward and were too afraid will realize that they are not alone with their thoughts. Maybe another family of a victim will be less afraid to step forward. Maybe some will think twice before agreeing to a tribal hearing, which are notorious for punishing women for the attacks against them. It is a seed that has been planted.
Or maybe I’m wrong and none of that will happen. And it’s quite possible that these men will not even be punished for their crime.
But at the very least, this little girl will not be married into the family of her rapists. For all else that she has been and will go through, she will at least be spared that much. And sadly, it is an unlikely luxury for other girls and women in her situation.