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Shelter tries to help abused child brides

In disturbing video images, a 14-year-old girl is purportedly being flogged. She is alleged to have run away from a forced marriage in a remote village.

Just as disturbing to Dr. Sima Samar, chair of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission? "The other sad part I have to say was the reaction of the people," she says. "The lack of sensitivity of the people."

The video was given to Samar's Human Rights Commission. She says police promised her they'd prosecute the man, but so far nothing despite the country's laws that ban not just forced marriages but matrimoney for girls under 16.

Many men, Samar says, including some government officials just don't get it.

"They still think that women is the property of the men and they should be treated how they want," she explains.



Samar was Afghanistan's first government Minister for women but was pushed aside for being too outspoken. Little has changed since then.

"It's 8 years," she says. "We have new system in the country and new government in the country; they should have been more pro-active on these issues."

But the central government has a lot of political issues to deal with, primarily making peace with the Taliban, and needs support from the conservative outer provinces.

No one has an exact figure exactly how many girls are forced into marriage. Estimates vary as high as 60 percent or more and attitudes here are so engrained that one government minister was recently reported as saying shelters that try to help these girls and women are an evil.

At one shelter in Kabul, they deal with the fallout of these everyday attitudes about women.

"Since January alone we've had 115 cases of forced or underage marriages," says Manizha Naderi, with the Women for Afghan Women organization who runs the shelter.

Sukaini is typical of the recent cases. She is 15 years old now but was 13 when her family forced her to marry her 45-year-old cousin.

She says that her husband shaved her head and threatend to kill her and drop her body in a well. So she says she ran away.

Sukaini is one of the lucky ones. The shelter is helping her get a divorce. She says she doesn't want to marry again, but just get the education she never had.

But even at this shelter, not everyone can be helped.

One of the newest arrivals is a 15-year-old girl who ran away from a forced marriages. Within hours of arriving at the shelter, several parliamentarians called the shelter to demand she sent back to her family. At the shelter, though, they fear if they do that, she'll be killed.

Police put her in a juvenile detention facility for some time, but prosecutors authorized her return to the shelter as of now.

But the shelter's problems are only just begining.

"The family has said that they are definately going to take her back and that means even if they have to bring the whole province to stage a demonstration in front of our doors they'll do it," says Naderi. "... We have about 60 women in our shelter right now and 22 children. So it's not just her safety - I have all these other people to worry about as well."

The shelter is powerless, no one to defend them. In the city as in the countryside, she says, too many people sit back and do nothing. And that's all it takes.







Links to help:

Women for Afghan Women
Women for Women International
Vital Voices

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Tags: afghanistan
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