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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.

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And in Kunduz, Geysina was only one among a dozen young women and girls recorded killed in the last nine months alone, compared to just one in the previous year. Police statistics show that those murders account for more than one-quarter of the 42 killings registered across the province in that period. 

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Residents and police in Kunduz list a host of reasons: lack of education, poverty, increased militia activity, traditional practices of forced and early marriage – and growing resistance to those practices – and even democracy, along with mental health problems stemming from decades of conflict.

"There are many reasons behind it," says Nadira Geyah, the head of the Kunduz office of the Afghan Ministry of Women’s Affairs. An Afghan flag sits on her desk, beside a group of cloth flowers in well-appointed offices. The UNAMA report noted the “crucial role” of such provincial women's affairs offices.

Most women are killed at the hands of illegal militias, which have taken root in Kunduz the last two years, says Ms. Geyah. But a tradition of forced marriages also "create problems in the family and are used as reasons to kill."

'A generation of war'

On top of that, decades of war – of Soviet occupation in the 1980s, civil war in the 1990s, and finally since 2001 American and NATO intervention – has left its mark.

"This is a generation of war, so people have mental problems and are very quick to anger and to act," says Geyah.

Yet another reason is the process of spreading the news of women's rights across the country, as the Ministry of Women's Affairs does. In Kunduz, Geyah's office uses sympathetic religious scholars to spread the message, with the help of the media. Key topics are women's rights according to Islam, under international human rights law, and Afghan prohibitions on violence against women.

"When a woman in a rural area hears that, she stands up to her family, and instead of going to a magistrate [with a problem], they may prefer to kill [the woman]," says Geyah.

Not all scholars are on board, and their preaching has also led to the killing of women. "It's a big challenge and we need more time. We should struggle against that," she adds.

Even more fundamentally, education is key. Families often prefer that their children work instead of go to school, "so what kind of behavior can we expect of them?" asks Geyah.

Geysina is a case in point: None of the nine children in the family went to school. “She was like a house girl, busy at home, cooking with her mother or bringing us lunch in the fields,” says the murdered girl’s father, Mr. Rahim. “She was not a school girl.”

Reasons for optimism

Despite the surge in killings, Geyah is optimistic about changes in coming years.

"In the past, there were a small number of girls in school, and that number is increasing," says Geyah. "And before, there were no women in Kunduz government offices; now we have many examples."

And on the ground in Kunduz, the police say they are making progress. They have stepped up arrests in the past two years, as their own capacity and numbers have grown. In the last half-year Kunduz police have investigated 500 cases, 56 of them related to murders, says Husaini. On his desk is a calendar with a photograph of a crop of uniformed women police recruits.

The death toll will drop, says Husaini, as police numbers grow, and if magistrates rule consistently: "If they give appropriate punishment, it will make a difference."

Yet those future changes, if they come, were too late for Geysina and her mourning family.

"When you would fight with her, she would come back and make peace – she was very kind," says her brother, Mohamad Noor. "These days we were getting ready for a wedding party."

"She even asked for new clothes!" says father Rahim, laughing, adding that he vetoed as inappropriate her request for a short-sleeved outfit.

The shock of her loss to this family is something Geysina's killers will never understand, he says. "Those who did this don't know anything about humanity or Islam."

* Follow Scott Peterson on Twitter @peterson__scott


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