By Lucy Westcott
A 20-year-old Afghan woman was allegedly gang-raped after escaping violence in her home, according to local media.
The woman, a newlywed, was lured by a group of men and encouraged to elope with one of them after fleeing domestic violence perpetrated by her new husband, Afghan news outlet Khaama Press reports. The incident took place in northeastern Takhar province amid a surge in violence in the country over the past year.
Santatullah Temori, provincial governor of Takhar, confirmed the attack, which the woman survived. The woman said she was raped by three men, who left her outside the women’s affairs directorate in Takhar. She was also held hostage by the men for nearly four weeks and is now in a government shelter.
"The gang-rape of this woman was horrific but unfortunately this issue is endemic. Domestic and sexual violence against Afghan women is commonplace,” Jessica Neuwirth, founder of Donor Direct Action, an international women's group that works to end violence in Afghanistan, said in a statement on Thursday. “As long as international groups exclude women from rebuilding peace in countries like Afghanistan and use the same failed approach over and over again, but expect different results, violence within the home and within society is likely to continue.”
News of the woman’s ordeal comes days after a new report from the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) found that Afghan civilian casualties in 2016 were the highest in 15 years. In a 3 percent rise from 2015, 3,298 civilians were killed and 7,920 were wounded in Afghanistan last year.
Injuries and deaths of women in Afghanistan due to conflict have increased by 400 percent over the past six years, from 285 deaths in 2009 to 1,218 in 2016, according to the report. (The 2016 total is a slight decrease from 2015.)
Women in Afghanistan also continue to suffer from the “parallel justice” system, in which they are tried by both the government legal system and local tribal courts. In its report, UNAMA says that punishments by the parallel justice system for so-called moral crimes represent “an increasingly disturbing trend.” In 2016, UNAMA documented 10 such punishments, resulting in the deaths of five women and the injury of five others. In at least two cases, women were shot to death for running away from home.
Hashim Ahmadi, programme manager for Humanitarian Assistance for the Women and Children of Afghanistan in Kabul, says child and forced marriages are the main reasons for girls and young women escaping from the homes of their new husbands. They often become the victims of rape, says Ahmadi.
"While they are on the run, they become vulnerable to all types of violence,” he says. “Strict laws on forced marriages should be enacted and implemented by the government and public awareness should be increased by the government and NGOs so that people end these old customs."
U.S. President Donald Trump was scheduled to speak with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on Thursday. The call comes two days after six Afghans working with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) were killed by suspected Islamic State (ISIS) militants in the province of Jowzjan.
Originally published on Feb. 9, 2017