In Afghanistan, a girl's killing stands out – for police response
Police have arrested suspects in the recent beheading of a girl, but a new report released today by the UN finds that violent acts against women remain under reported and often ignored.
The poor Afghan family never took a photograph of their 14-year-old daughter, Geysina, before her life was cut short.Skip to next paragraph
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All the mementos of their devoted daughter fit in a single sack, carried from their village in northern Afghanistan – the totems of the latest grisly episode in a surge of killings of young women and girls in Kunduz Province. There's a pair of worn sandals repaired with loops of thick thread, which bring tears to the eyes of Geysina's father when he holds them. And there is a ring made of cheap metal – no more than costume jewelry for children – inset with a small oval of lime-green plastic.
Geysina was wearing the ring the morning in late November when she was beheaded 150 yards from home while fetching water.
"She was too young for gold," explains Geysina's father Mohamad Rahim, whose threadbare sleeves and calloused hands attest to a life spent farming. He tips his head and grey silk turban at the memories of Geysina, one of nine children whose walk, smile, and laugh set her apart. "We were all lying on the ground, crying and screaming – there is nothing like this [killing of innocents] in Islam."
Her family and local police blame a neighbor, a butcher living next door, who they say threatened Geysina's life repeatedly for not accepting several proposals for marriage to the butcher's brother – the latest rejection made just the night before the killing.
Geysina lived and died in a hard country for women, a point highlighted again by a United Nations report released today. Despite a landmark 2009 law called the "Elimination of Violence Against Women," crimes against women remain under reported and largely not investigated.
The reasons, the report states, include “cultural restraints, social norms and taboos, customary practices and religious beliefs, discrimination against women that leads to wider acceptance of violence against them … and, at times threat to life.”
In 16 provinces, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) noted the discrepancy between the "very low" figure of 470 officially reported incidents of violence in the past year and the 4,010 recorded by the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission.
UNAMA's human rights director, Georgette Gagnon, called on Afghan authorities to "take further steps to ensure that police and prosecutors register and investigate all reports of violence against women."
Arrests in Geysina's case
In Geysina's case, the police have taken some action.
Police say the butcher, Mohamad Sadiq, and a relative and suspected accomplice, are now behind bars. They deny the murder, but were caught fleeing the scene, says Kunduz police spokesman Said Sarwar Husaini. Evidence includes bloody clothes in their possession, and the motive was well-known locally to all, due to a string of threats.
"I am sure the court will punish them," says Mr. Husaini, noting likely sentences of 20 years or life in prison. Such sentences are an increasingly common result, according to the UNAMA report. Of the 470 referred to a judicial process, some 163 saw indictments filed and 100 of those ended in convictions using the 2009 law.
"Women are always the victims, so we pursue these cases very seriously," says Husaini. "Women have a weak status in society, so we are very careful about women's cases and investigate deeply because they can't protect themselves."
Violence spikes in Kunduz
But violence against women is not showing signs of abating in Afghanistan. The acting head of women’s affairs in Laghman Province in northeast Afghanistan, Najia Sediqi, was assassinated yesterday. Her predecessor was killed last July for defending a girl who married for love, instead of an arranged marriage to an older man.