In December 2010, in a small house located in Sarbande Chakush village in the Juzjan province of Afghanistan, a 14-year-old girl named Aziza was abruptly awakened by loud banging on the front door in the middle of the night.
A group of armed men, headed by Haji Daadullah, one of the most influential and powerful figures in her village, awaited Aziza’s father as he opened the wooden door. The men attacked her father, entered the house and kidnapped Aziza.
Her family was warned that if anyone dared to report the kidnapping, they would pay with their blood.
After twenty days, local police forces became aware of the incident and brought in Aziza’s family for questioning. Aziza’s father, Mohammed Qul, used the investigation as an opportunity to file an official complaint and finally bring Aziza home.
The security forces eventually brought Daadullah and the others involved in the kidnapping to the police station.
During the investigation, the kidnappers said that another village girl, named Rajab Gul, was married to a man named Abdul Rahman, but on the wedding night, Abdul Rahman accused the girl of not being a virgin – an accusation that can lead to the stoning of a woman in Afghanistan.
Immediately afterwards, Rahman informed Daadullah, who decided to take matters into his own hands instead of reporting the accusation to the police. Daadullah declared that Rajab Gul had lost her virginity to a young man named Shah Nazar – Aziza’s brother.
Therefore, Daadullah and many allied armed men entered Shah Nazar’s house that night, kidnapped his sister and married her to Abdul Rahman. They did all of this without fulfilling the legal Islamic rite of nekah [marriage], carrying out divorce requirements or getting Aziza’s consent. The kidnappers argued that they had held an Islamic nekah ceremony for Aziza and Abdul Rahman – but the religious leader they claimed completed the ceremony had already left the village.
They also brought Rajab Gul to Shah Nazar’s house and left her there.
The preliminary court decided to give sentences of one to five years to each of the men involved in the kidnapping, illegal marriage and divorce.
However, within twenty days the criminals – who had both money and connections – used their resources to organise a second court hearing. Following this, all but one of the criminals were granted their freedom. Aziza and her family, on the other hand, were humiliated and placed under judicial investigation by government officials to ensure their silence.
Aziza’s family appealed
Despite all of the risks, and the humiliating failure of the justice system in Juzjan, the brave girl and her family sold their belongings so that they could afford to appeal the case.
After the case was announced resolved by the court in Juzjan, Aziza brought the case to the Kabul Attorney General’s office. In Kabul, Enayatullah Kamal, the Attorney General’s assistant (who had ties with Daadullah) argued that the case had already been resolved and left Aziza and her family hopeless until members of Young Women for Change went with her to the Independent Human Rights Commission, where an attorney was selected to follow-up the case.
With pressures from the Commission, the case was brought to the Supreme Court, where the case has been delayed with no progress in the past four days, due to neglectful and dismissive officials.
By this point, Aziza’s family was desperate for help and even thought of contacting the Taliban in order to solve the case – which is ironic given that the Taliban are usually the violators of human rights. But it was the only option left for the family, besides leaving Afghanistan – but with what recources and to where?
Aziza is part of a small minority of women who gather the courage and resources to report violations of their rights. The vast majority of women who are married by force, raped, kidnapped or subject to domestic violence never find the resources or the will to file complaints.
They are silenced by traditions that require them to accept their fate.
Silence and honour
Most of the time, survivors of rape are forcibly married off to their violators to protect the family’s honour before the community. Despite the 2009 “Law Against Violence Against Women”, domestic violence is not recognised as a problem among most people – it is simply silently accepted.
Given that nine out of ten women in Afghanistan face some kind of domestic violence, it is considered normal by men and women who are unaware of their rights.
Brave women like Aziza who are willing to go to court and make their cases public not only raise awareness about other women and the violations of their rights, but also empower other women to seek justice.
However, justice is only possible when these women are provided with support and information during the legal process. Aziza’s case is a testimony to the fact that even courageous women like her can fail because of the dismissive, neglectful and corrupt measures taken by governmental officials.
And unfortunately, Aziza is not alone in her battle.
The rights – and bodies – of hundreds of women in Afghanistan are violated on a regular basis. Yet they are provided with little support from the government during the judicial process and even less information about their basic legal rights or how the process of seeking justice even works.
One of the main reasons for the lack of judicial support for women is the small number of women involved in the Ministry of Justice and Attorney General’s office. According to the 2010 annual report from the Supreme Court of Afghanistan and Attorney General’s Office, only five per cent of judges, six per cent of prosecutors, and six per cent of attorneys are female.
The serious lack of female staff makes it difficult for women to even think about entering the government in Afghanistan – a place where gender apartheid is a significant part of the custom.
Another reason that Aziza’s case was dismissed so quickly is that neither her male attorney nor the male security forces involved in the case feel sympathy towards women. Her attorney was so disconcerted by the details of Aziza’s case that he rarely even came to the court meetings and never had a real conversation with her to hear her side of the story.
According to UN Human Rights Council, 90 per cent of Afghan women face domestic violence and 70 per cent of all marriages are early and forced. Given that, there is an undeniable need to train judges, prosecutors, attorneys and even security forces to be more gender sensitive. They should also be trained on the rights women were granted by the constitution and international conventions signed by the Afghan government.
Women who report violations of their rights must be provided with the support that they deserve – there needs to be a source of pressure that will ensure legal support from the government throughout the process of seeking justice.
Domestic and international media can be this source of pressure and advocacy – and Aziza is fully aware of that.
When she came to the office of Young Women for Change, an organisation working for women, Aziza requested that her voice be heard because she had gone through the legal process and failed in her quest for justice.
Publicity of this case will encourage more women to seek legal assistance. It will also ensure that such inhuman and misogynistic crimes are not quietly accepted, that criminals are not encouraged and protected, that justice is implemented and defended – and that such unbearable violations are prevented in the future.
(Photo Credit: Gallo/Getty)
Noorjahan Akbar is is currently teaching Afghan children in orphanages to write creatively under a project called Stories to Heal. Noorjahan is also the founder of women’s advocacy organisation Young Women for Change and a member of Hadia- Afghan Youth Volunteer Group for Social Reform. This article was originally published on aljazeera.net.