NEW YORK (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - There is nothing in Afghan civil or Islamic law that makes it illegal for a girl to run away from home to avoid forced marriage. But nothing can protect a runaway girl from customary laws that put her in jail or put her to death for allegedly tarnishing the family’s honour.
That was illustrated vividly recently in the death of a 18-year-old runaway girl named Amina, shot to death after accepting her family’s vows not to harm her, according to a report in the New York Times.
Amina’s death, considered an honour killing by local activists, is only one of an estimated 150 such murders committed annually in Afghanistan, Rubina Hamdard, a lawyer with the Afghan Women’s Network told the Times.
Faced with a forced marriage arranged by her family, Amina had run away from home and taken refuge in a women’s shelter. Two weeks ago, she agreed to leave the shelter and return home after her family gave signed assurances she would not be harmed and even repeated those pledges on video at the Ministry of Women’s Affairs in Baghlan Province.
But she never reached home. On her way there in the family car, nine masked gunmen attacked, dragged her out of the car and shot her to death, according to her brother and uncle. No one else was harmed.
It is unclear whether the killing was arranged by Amina’s would-be fiancé, as the police suspect, or by her own family, as women’s activists believe, the Times said. What is clear to all is that Amina was the apparent victim of an honour killing.
POLICE VIRGINITY TESTS
Even when they are formally reported, which happens in less than half the cases, very few of these killings result in convictions, according to Hamdard.
Part of the problem is the strength and tenacity of customary or tribal practices that judges, often poorly educated, continue to invoke despite civil and Islamic laws to the contrary, including Afghanistan’s Elimination of Violence Against Women Act.
“In Afghanistan judges stick to customary law, forget sharia (Islamic) law, let alone civil law,” Shala Fareed, a law professor at Kabul University, told the Times.
Of 4,505 cases of violence against women in 2013, which include issues such as forced marriage, less than 10 percent are resolved through the legal process, with nearly half being dropped or settled out of court, according to the latest report from the Women’s Ministry cited by the Times.
When police find unmarried women, even legal adults such as Amina, out alone and unaccompanied by close relatives they routinely arrest them and subject them to a virginity test by a forensic pathologist, a test demanded by customary law but not condoned by civil law, according to the Times.
Amina, who successfully passed the virginity test, was not charged with a crime and left at a women’s shelter.
Uranus Atifi, head of the legal department of the women’s ministry in Pul-e-Kumri, the provincial capital where Amina was found, said she only handed Amina over to her family after the girl made it clear that “she didn’t want her case to get bigger and create more problems for her”.
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