Source: mg.co.za( KATHY GANNON)
More than two-thirds of the inmates at the Badam Bagh prison are serving sentences for leaving their husbands or refusing arranged marriages.
The 21-year-old Afghan woman said she fled her abusive husband only to be raped at gunpoint by a stranger who was supposed to help her.
The man then settled in front of a TV set, putting the gun on a table by his side. Choosing her moment, Mariam grabbed it and shot her assailant in the head, then turned the gun on herself.
“Three days later I woke up in the hospital,” said Mariam, shyly removing a scarf from her head to reveal a partially shaved head and a long jagged scar that ran almost the length of her head where the bullet grazed her scalp.
From the hospital, Mariam was sent to a police station and from there to Afghanistan’s main women’s prison, Badam Bagh, which in Pashto means Almond Garden. She is one of 202 inmates in a jail mostly filled with women serving time for so-called “moral” crimes. Many had sought justice for domestic violence or tried to run away from an abusive situation.
Under international pressure, Afghanistan has made some progress in advancing women’s rights after years of repressive Taliban rule that banned girls from going to school and forced women to wear all-encompassing burqas and leave their homes only when accompanied by a male relative. But the country remains a deeply conservative society run by men who most often turn to tribal jirgas that routinely hand down rulings offering up girls and women to settle debts and disputes.
Nowhere is this more evident than at the Badam Bagh prison, built by the Italian government six years ago to house female inmates from the Kabul area. The Associated Press recently was given rare access to the facility.
Children in jail
More than two-thirds of the 202 inmates are serving sentences of up to seven years for leaving their husbands, refusing to accept an arranged marriage, or leaving their parents’ home with a man of their choice, according to the prison’s director, Zaref Jan Naebi. The rest face theft, assault or narcotics charges. Two women are in jail on murder.
Some of the women were jailed while pregnant, others with their small children. Naebi said 62 children are living with their imprisoned mothers, sharing the same gray, steel bunk beds and napping in the afternoon behind a sheet draped from the upper bunk, oblivious to the chatter and the crackling noises from the small TV sets shoved off to one side of the rooms.
Before the two-story prison, named for the sprawling almond orchard across the street, was built, female prisoners were held in rundown cement cellblocks in the centre of Kabul in a jail that predated the Taliban. Others were locked up in the notorious Pul-e-Charkhi jail, which also houses 1 300 male inmates.
At Badam Bagh, six inmates live in cells originally intended to house four.
Mariam has spent the past three months in one of them, without any idea of why she was imprisoned, what charges she faces or when she can leave.
“I haven’t gone to court. I am just waiting,” Mariam told the AP, hugging a ratty brown sweater to protect her from the damp cold of the prison.
While it might not be against the law to run away or escape a forced marriage, the courts routinely convict women fleeing abusive homes with “the intent to commit adultery”, which are most often simply referred to as “moral crimes”, says a UN report released last month. It also said most cases of abuse go unreported.
The director general of prisoners, General Amer Mohammad Jamsheed, said about 650 women are jailed nationwide, and “most are in jail for moral crimes”.
It was not possible to determine whether this represents an increase from previous years, though Georgette Gagnon, director of human rights with the UN Assistance Mission for Afghanistan, said that more women are now reporting abuses and that many wind up being charged as a result.
Zubaida Akbar, founder of the volunteer Haider organisation, which fights for women’s rights and sends lawyers and other representatives to the women’s prison to defend the inmates in court, said women often risk being jailed themselves if they seek justice against the violence.
“Perceptions toward women are still the same in most places, tribal laws are the only laws followed and in most places nothing has changed in the basics of women’s lives. There are policies and papers and even laws but nothing has changed,” Akbar said.
In the overwhelmingly male-dominated legal system, Akbar said even when a female inmate gets in front of the judge “he says ‘it is her husband, she should go back and make it work. It is her fault and not her place to leave him – not in our society.'”
Surrounded by a high fence topped with razor wire, the children being kept with their mothers at the Badam Bagh prison play in a single small open space. Nearby women hang out their laundry. On balconies obscured by mesh and steel bars women sit and smoke.
Naebi, the jail’s director, said inmates attend a variety of classes during the week, ranging from basic literacy, to crafts and sewing, so they will have a skill after they are released.
The women interviewed by AP agreed to tell their story on condition that only their first names were used for fear of being stigmatised after their release from prison.
Nuria, dressed in maroon from head to toe, quieted her infant boy as she told of going to court to demand a divorce from a husband she was forced by her parents to marry. “I wanted to get a divorce but he wouldn’t let me go. I never wanted to marry him. I loved someone else but my father made me. He threatened to kill me if I didn’t,” Nuria said.
“When I went to court for the divorce, instead of giving me a divorce, they charged me with running away,” she said. The man she wanted to marry also was sent to jail.
When she went to court Nuria said she didn’t know she was pregnant. Her son was born in jail. After he learned he had a son, her husband offered to drop the charges if she returned home. Nuria, who has eight months left to serve, refused.
“He wants me to come home now because I have his son but I said no,” she said.
Adia, who is now seven months pregnant, said she left her drug-addicted husband, then ran away with another man when her parents insisted she go back – though she insists it was a platonic relationship.
“I was desperate to get away and he said he would help me,” said Adia (27). “But he didn’t, he just left me. I went to the court. I was angry. I wanted him charged and my husband charged, but instead they charged me and sentenced me to six years. I went back to court to appeal the conviction and this time I was sentenced to seven and a half years.”
Veneer of progress
At 60, Fauzia is the oldest inmate in the facility. She stared out of the prison bars. Already seven years in jail, Fauzia is serving a 17-year sentence for killing her husband and her daughter-in-law. Expressionless as she told her story, she rolled up her sleeve to display a mangled elbow that she said her husband smashed with a stick. She was his fourth wife.
“I was in one room. I came into the next room and they were there having sexual relations. I found a big knife and killed them both,” she said in a voice empty of emotion.
Naebi, the prison director, confirmed the charges against the prisoners who spoke with the AP, but she did not provide details.
Zubeida, the women’s activist, said despite what she calls a veneer of progress in Afghanistan, little is different for most Afghan women.
“We have the appearance of everything, but when you dig deep down below the surface nothing fundamentally has changed. It has been tough. It has been really tough,” she said. – Sapa-AP
The Buddhas of Bamiyan (Pashto: د بامیان بوتان – “de bámiyán botán”, Persian: بت های باميان – but hay-e bamiyan) were two 6th century monumental statues of standing buddha carved into the side of a cliff in the Bamyan valley in the Hazarajat region of central Afghanistan, 230 km (140 mi) northwest of Kabul at an altitude of 2,500 meters (8,202 ft). Built in 507 AD, (smaller), and 554 AD, (larger) the statues represented the classic blended style of Gandhara art.
The main bodies were hewn directly from the sandstone cliffs, but details were modeled in mud mixed with straw, coated withstucco. This coating, practically all of which wore away long ago, was painted to enhance the expressions of the faces, hands and folds of the robes; the larger one was painted carmine red and the smaller one was painted multiple colors.
The lower parts of the statues’ arms were constructed from the same mud-straw mix while supported on wooden armatures. It is believed that the upper parts of their faces were made from great wooden masks or casts. Rows of holes that can be seen in photographs were spaces that held wooden pegs that stabilized the outer stucco.
They were dynamited and destroyed in March 2001 by the Taliban, on orders from leader Mullah Mohammed Omar, after the Taliban government declared that they were idols. International opinion strongly condemned the destruction of the Buddhas, which was viewed as an example of the intolerance of the Taliban. Japan and Switzerland, among others, have pledged support for the rebuilding of the statues.
Source: shine.yahoo.com( Beth Greenfield, Shine Staff)
Taj Mohammad and his daughter, Naghma, at right. Photo: Bryan Denton/The New York Times/Redux
A 6-year-old Afghan girl sold by her father into an impending marriage to pay off a family medical debt got a reprieve Monday: She will now get to stay with her parents, thanks to an anonymous donor who is paying off the debt of $2,500 through an American lawyer, according to a still-developing New York Times report.
The girl, Naghma, wound up being bartered by father Taj Mohammad after he borrowed the $2,500 from a fellow refugee-camp resident over the course of a year. The money was to pay for a hospital treatment for his wife and medical care for some of his nine children, including a three-year-old who later froze to death. If he couldn’t pay it off in another year, Naghma would be forced to wed the lender’s 17-year-old son.
“They said, ‘Pay back our money,’ and I didn’t have any money, so I had to give my girl,” Mohammad told the New York Times. “I was thankful to them at the time, so it was my decision, but the elders also demanded that I do this.” Soon after the deal was struck, the boy to whom Naghma was engaged insisted that she stop attending school, which she loves, her father said.
On Monday afternoon, there was no word on who paid off the debt or how. But now that it has been paid, said a New York Times follow-up story, the girl, Naghma, will remain with her family. She will no doubt continue to live in extreme poverty in the Kabul refugee camp, and will perhaps even forced into marriage when she’s older. Still, she is one of the luckier girls of Afghanistan, where half of all girls are forced to marry under age 15, according to estimates by the United Nations agency UN Women. That’s despite the legal age for marriage in the country being 16 for girls.
Ending the practice remains a huge challenge in Afghanistan’s patriarchal society, where it’s somewhat traditional to give girls away to settle debts or pay for their relatives’ crimes. Tribal customs often condone marriage once puberty is reached, or even earlier, and the government has been unable or unwilling to challenge the law effectively.
Manizha Naderi, the executive director of Women for Afghan Women, a group that runs various shelters in the country, told the New York Times in a previous article that poverty is the motivation for many child marriages. That’s either because a wealthy husband pays a family well for his bride, or because the father of the bride will then have one less child to support. “Most of the time they are sold,” Ms. Naderi said. “And most of the time it’s a case where the husband is much, much older.”
Stories like Naghma’s come at a slow but steady clip out of Afghanistan and many other countries, including India. In 2010, two girls, ages 13 and 14, dressed as boys and fled their elderly husbands after refusing to consummate the marriages. They made it far from their remote village, but were eventually caught by police and returned home, where they were publicly, viciously flogged. Authorities did nothing, despite the flogging being caught on tape and human-rights groups’ efforts to intervene.
While the case may have been shocking, Fawzia Kofi, a prominent female member of Parliament, told the New York Times that, it was far from the only one. “I’m sure there are worse cases we don’t even know about,” she said. “Early marriage and forced marriage are the two most common forms of violent behavior against women and girls.”
In a more recent and widely reported case, a 15-year-old Afghanistan girl forced into marriage, Sahar Gul, was rescued from six months of torture at the hands of her in-laws. They kept her locked in a basement, ripped out her fingernails and burned her with hot irons—and, a rare instance of justice, were eventually brought to justice and sentenced to 10 years in prison.
According to a short Pulitzer Center film, “Too Young to Wed: The Secret World of Child Brides,” by National Geographic photographer Stephanie Sinclair, “Child marriage occurs in more than 50 developing countries around the world, and almost always results in the girl’s removal from school. What families don’t realize,” Sinclair explains through her narration, “is by curtailing a girl’s education, they’re only perpetuating the cycle of poverty.
She added, “As one Afghan police officer told me, girls are routinely seen as family burdens, while their male counterparts are seen as kings.”
How will the 2014 US troop withdrawal and Pakistan‘s upcoming elections affect regional and global politics?
And as they do so, new stories emerge rekindling hope that peace will finally come to the region as well as political, social and economic stability.
Afghanistan is set for a 2014 US troop withdrawal and Pakistan is gearing up for elections in May – for the first time in its history a democratically elected government has completed five years in office.
So how will these major changes affect regional and global politics?
Some of the highlights of the issue include:
- Kabul: A city of hope and fear – With the US set to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan in 2014, what does the future hold for the country’s capital?
- A journey along Pakistan’s Indus River – Fed by the water from the melted snow of the Himalayas and prone to monsoon floods, the ebb and flow of the river impacts on the lives of hundreds of thousands of Pakistanis.
- Buzkashi: Riding into the scoring circle – Afghanistan’s national sport was banned under the Taliban but it now attracts thousands of passionate fans.
- Pakistan’s troubled milestone – As the country heads towards elections, the mood remains one of cynicism rather than celebration.
- Embracing a new Afghan challenge – A skiing competition – including an event for women – reflects a new sense of optimism in a country that is simultaneously holding its breath ahead of the 2014 US troop withdrawal.
- Navigating Hell’s Road – Meet the Pakistani truckers who must battle arguably the world’s most dangerous road in order to ferry goods to remote mountain villages.
Last week’s calculated attack shows that international troops still face a myriad of dangers even though they are increasingly taking a back seat in operations with Afghan forces ahead of a full withdrawal by the end of 2014.
The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing, said the attacker was thought to be about 16 years old. He escaped so his age couldn’t be verified.
Cable’s brother Raymond Johnston, a 42-year-old waiter in Owensboro, Ky., said the Army told the family the basics of what happened and that his brother was stabbed in the neck from behind.
Johnston said his brother, who also did a tour of duty in Iraq, was “prepared before he left for anything that happened” in Afghanistan.
Cable met individually with Johnston and three other family members before leaving for Afghanistan and had similar conversations with each — that the deployment was extremely hazardous and that his family and friends should “continue to enjoy life” if he was killed.
“He was able to communicate to the family about if the worst was supposed to happen, what we were supposed to do,” Johnston said.
Cable’s body was scheduled to return to Owensboro in western Kentucky on Thursday. Visitation was scheduled for Friday with the funeral set for Saturday.
The Afghan and American dignitaries were attending the swearing-in ceremony of Afghan Local Police in Shinwar district in Nangarhar province, senior district official Zalmai Khan said. Afghan Local Police, or ALP, recruits are drawn from villages and backed by the U.S. military.
The soldier was playing with children outside when the attacker came from behind and stabbed him in the neck with a large knife, Khan said. Other guards nearby didn’t immediately notice what had happened because there was no gunshot, and the assailant was able to flee to neighboring Pakistan, he added.
Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid identified the attacker as a 16-year-old local man named Khalid. He said Khalid was acting independently when he killed the soldier but had joined the Islamic militant movement since fleeing the scene.
The district official Khan did not provide a name or confirm the Taliban’s claim.
The Pentagon said in a statement last week that Cable, died from injuries sustained when his unit was attacked by enemy forces.
The killing comes as the U.S. death toll rose to 14 in March, compared with four in the previous two months of the year, partly fueled by the start of the spring fighting season when the Taliban and other insurgents take advantage of improved weather to step up attacks.
By contrast, at least 67 members of the Afghan security forces were killed last month, compared with 42 in February and 55 in January.
In a success story for the Afghan government, the intelligence service announced that it had foiled a plan to attack the Sulma dam in the western province of Herat.
Agency spokesman Shafiqullah Tahiri said an Afghan man identified as Sayed Gul was arrested with 1,300 kilograms (about 1.5 tons) of explosives. He blamed the Pakistani Taliban for plotting to bomb the dam in a bid to destabilize the country.