It was bad enough that the alleged rape took place in the sanctity of a mosque and that the accused man was a mullah who invoked the familiar defence that it had been consensual sex.
But the victim was only 10 years old. And there was more: The authorities said her family members openly planned to carry out an honour killing in the case – against the young girl. The mullah offered to marry his victim instead.
This past week, the awful matter became even worse. On Tuesday, local policemen removed the girl from the shelter that had given her refuge and returned her to her family, despite complaints from women’s activists that she was likely to be killed.
The case has broader repercussions. The head of the Women for Afghan Women shelter here where the girl took refuge, Dr. Hassina Sarwari, was at one point driven into hiding by death threats from the girl’s family and other mullahs, who sought to play down the crime by arguing the girl was much older than 10. One militia commander sent Sarwari threatening texts and an ultimatum to return the girl to her family. The doctor said she now wanted to flee Afghanistan.
The head of the women’s affairs office in Kunduz, Nederah Geyah, who actively campaigned to have the young girl protected from her family and the mullah prosecuted, resigned May 21 and moved to another part of the country.
The case itself would just be an aberrant atrocity, except that the resulting support for the mullah, and for the girl’s family and its honour killing plans, have become emblematic of a broader failure to help Afghan women who have been victims of violence.
The result challenges hopes that Western aid and encouragement can make lasting headway on behalf of Afghan women, particularly in remote parts of the country where traditional customs are still stronger than modern law. Here, Taliban insurgents and pro-government elements often make common cause in their hatred of progress in women’s rights, most of which has come about with international funding and pressure.
Most of the anger in Kunduz has been focused not on the mullah but on the women’s activists and the shelter, which is one of seven operated across Afghanistan by Women for Afghan Women, an Afghan-run charity that is heavily dependent on American aid, from both government and private donors.
“People know this office as the Americans’ office,” Sarwari said. “They all think the shelter is an American shelter. There isn’t a single American here.”
“WAW is not American-run,” said Manizha Naderi, its executive director. “Every single staff member is an Afghan. They are from the communities we work in. Our only concern is to make sure women and girls are protected and that they get justice.”
As the Western withdrawal from Afghanistan has accelerated, rights advocates are seeing a sharp difference in their funding.
“We already see the signs of losing the support of the international community,” Geyah said in an interview before she resigned. “No one’s funding new civil society programs anymore. None of the foreigners show up anymore; they’re all in hiding. And I think what gains we have achieved the last 13 years, we’re slowly losing all of them.”
The accused mullah, Mohammad Amin, was arrested and confessed to having sex with the girl after Koran recitation classes at the mosque on May 1, but he claimed that he thought the girl was older and that she responded to his advances.
The girl’s own testimony, and medical evidence, supported a rape so violent that it caused a fistula, or a break in the wall between the vagina and rectum, according to the police and the official bill of indictment. She bled so profusely after the attack that she was at one point in danger of losing her life because of a delay in getting medical care.
After the two women’s officials began speaking out about the case, they started receiving threatening calls from mullahs – some of them Taliban, others on the government side – and from arbakai, or pro-government militiamen. One of their claims was that the girl was actually 17, and thus of marriageable age, not 10.
Photographs of the girl that Sarwari took in the hospital clearly show a pre-pubescent child, and the doctor said the girl weighed only 40 pounds. Few Afghans have birth records, and many do not know their precise ages. But the girl’s mother said she was 10, and a forensic examination in the hospital agreed, saying she had not yet started menstruating or developing secondary sexual characteristics.
In the photographs, which Sarwari displayed on her laptop computer recently, the girl has alabaster features and inky black hair cut in a pageboy style. She lay in her hospital bed under a quilted blanket with cartoon characters on it.
Geyah said she showed photos of the girl to government officials and prosecutors to prove that she was much too young to have consented. Sarwari said, “We wanted to give her a face, to make her real to them.” Geyah said: “I went to the hospital when they brought her there. I was sitting next to her bed when I overheard her mother and aunt saying that her father was under tremendous pressure by the villagers to kill the girl because she had brought shame to them.”
Honour killings in rape cases are common in Afghanistan, and are often more important to the victim’s family than vengeance against the attacker. Human rights groups say about 150 honour killings a year come to light, and many more probably go unreported.
When Sarwari, who is a pediatrician, arrived to pick up the girl at the hospital, a crowd of village elders from Alti Gumbad, the girl’s home village on the outskirts of the city of Kunduz, were gathered outside the hospital; the girl’s brothers, father and uncle were among them. Inside, Sarwari encountered the girl’s aunt, who told her she had been ordered by her husband to sneak the girl out of the hospital and deliver her to the male relatives outside.
“She said they wanted to take her and kill her, and dump her in the river,” Sarwari said.
Efforts to reach the girl’s relatives by telephone were unsuccessful, and insurgent activity around Alti Gumbad made the village too dangerous for journalists to visit.
“The girl’s family gave us a guarantee that they would not harm her,” said Sayed Sarwar Hussaini, head of the Kunduz police criminal investigation division. “We would not hand her back unless we were sure.”
In the hospital room, the doctor found the girl’s mother holding her child’s hand, and both were weeping. “My daughter, may dust and soil protect you now,” Sarwari quoted the mother as saying. “We will make you a bed of dust and soil. We will send you to the cemetery where you will be safe.”
Even mothers here often believe that there is no choice but to kill rape victims, who are seen as unmarriageable and therefore a lifelong burden to their families, as well as a constant reminder of dishonor.
“Their men feel they have to wash their shame with blood,” Sarwari said.
The doctor took the girl away to the shelter. Afterward, Sarwari and several women’s affairs officials were threatened by the girl’s family and by other mullahs.
“They call me and curse me, and threaten to kill me and my family, and say they know where I live,” Sarwari said. “They say, once your American husbands leave Afghanistan, we will do what we want to you.” (Her husband is an Afghan doctor and war veteran.)
Sarwari has accused prosecutors and religious officials of siding with the accused rapist and ignoring the child’s plight.
“There are a lot of powerful people behind the mullah,” Sarwari said. The girl’s family knows they cannot do anything to Amin, she said, but “the girl is easy. They can get to her; she’s their daughter.” She said she feared the girl would either be killed, or forced to recant her accusations against the mullah.
Women for Afghan Women arranged for the girl to get medical treatment, and after she healed, she was returned to the shelter in Kunduz, about two weeks ago, until the police returned her to her family last Tuesday. Those caring for the girl said she had been terribly homesick and wanted to return to her family, but no one had the heart to tell her they had been conspiring to kill her.
Evidence of the castrations has emerged amid controversy that it was not included in the findings of an official investigation into sexual abuse within the church last year.
The NRC Handelsblad newspaper identified Henk Heithuis who was castrated in 1956, while a minor, after reporting priests to the police for abusing him in a Catholic boarding home.
Joep Dohmen, the investigative journalist who uncovered the Heithuis case, also found evidence of at least nine other castrations. “These cases are anonymous and can no longer be traced,” he said. “There will be many more. But the question is whether those boys, now old men, will want to tell their story.”
Mr Heithuis died in a car crash in 1958, two years after being castrated at the age of 20, while under the age of majority, which was then 21.
In 1956 he had accused Catholic clergy of sexually abusing him in his Church run care home.
Two clergymen were convicted of abuse but Mr Heithuis, a victim, was nonetheless transferred by police to a Catholic psychiatric hospital before being admitted to the St. Joseph Hospital in Veghel later that year.
There, court papers confirm, he was castrated “at his own request”, despite no submission of his written consent. Sources told Mr Dohmen that the surgical removal of testicles was regarded as a treatment for homosexuality and also as a punishment for those who accused clergy of sexual abuse.
Cornelius Rogge, 79, a well-known Dutch sculptor whose family knew Mr Heithuis in the 1950s, reported the castration to an official inquiry into abuse within the Catholic Church. But his evidence was ignored.
“We once asked Henk to drop his pants when the women were gone. He did that. He was maimed totally. It was a huge shock,” he said.
Last December, an official investigation by Wim Deetman, a former Dutch minister, received 1,800 reports of sexual abuse by clergy or volunteers within Dutch Catholic dioceses in the period since 1945.
The Deetman inquiry received a report of the Heithuis case from Mr Rogge but it was not followed up because “there were few leads for further research”.
Evidence emerged on Monday that government inspectors were aware that minors were being castrated while in Catholic-run psychiatric institutions.
Minutes of meetings held in the 1950s show that inspectors were present when castrations were discussed. The documents also reveal that the Catholic staff did not think parents needed to be involved.
There are also allegations that Vic Marijnen, a former Dutch Prime Minister, who died in 1975, was linked to the case.
In 1956, Mr Marijnen was the chairman of the Gelderland children’s home where Mr Heithuis and other children were abused. He intervened to have prison sentences dropped against several priests convicted of abusing children.
Dutch MPs will today call for a parliamentary investigation into the allegations.
“I am shocked that boys were being castrated in the 1950s,” said Khadija Arib, a Labour MP. “I want an independent investigation. We must find out how many cases there were, who knew about it and why the government did not act.”
Kathmandu, Nepal (CNN) — A 40-year-old mother of two was burned alive in central Nepal after she was accused of being a witch, police said Saturday.
Dhegani Mahato was attacked and set on fire by family members and others after a shaman allegedly accused her of casting a spell to make one of her relatives sick, Police Officer Hira Mani Baral said.
The attack occurred Friday in Bagauda in Chitwan district, about 80 kilometers (50 miles) southwest of the Nepalese capital, Kathmandu, Baral said by telephone.
Police arrested 10 people, including two shamans, five women and an 8-year-old boy, in connection with the burning.
“Those arrested have confessed to their crime and will be charged with murder,” Baral said.
Mahato had just finished cleaning a cowshed early in the morning when she was attacked, Baral said.
She was beaten with sticks and rocks before being doused with kerosene and set afire, an attack witnessed by her 9-year-old daughter, according to the local police report.
Neighbors told police they were alerted to the attack but by then it was too late to save her.
Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai appealed to the people not to heed to shamans and faith healers.
The government announced 1 million Nepalese rupees (about $14,000) in compensation for Mahato’s two children.
Yes, this guy is “for real”.
CAIRO: An Islamic cleric residing in Europe said that women should not be close to bananas or cucumbers, in order to avoid any “sexual thoughts.”
The unnamed sheikh, who was featured in an article on el-Senousa news, was quoted saying that if women wish to eat these food items, a third party, preferably a male related to them such as their a father or husband, should cut the items into small pieces and serve.
He said that these fruits and vegetables “resemble the male penis” and hence could arouse women or “make them think of sex.”
He also added carrots and zucchini to the list of forbidden foods for women.
The sheikh was asked how to “control” women when they are out shopping for groceries and if holding these items at the market would be bad for them. The cleric answered saying this matter is between them and God.
Answering another question about what to do if women in the family like these foods, the sheikh advised the interviewer to take the food and cut it for them in a hidden place so they cannot see it.
The opinion has stirred a storm of irony and denouncement among Muslims online, with hundreds of comments mocking the cleric.
One reader said that these religious “leaders” give Islam “a bad name” and another commented said that he is a “retarded” person and he must quite his post immediately.
Others called him a seeker of fame, but no official responses from renowned Islamic scholars have been published on the statements.