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Threatened, Thrashed And Raped : Afghanistan’s Invisible Taliban Child Brides and Widows are Trapped in Sex Slavery

Child and forced marriage are outlawed but remain common in Afghanistan, particularly among poor families eager for dowries

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Child and forced marriages are a common practice among the Islamist Taliban. VOA
  • Child and forced marriage remain a common practice in Afghanistan, particularly among poor families in lure of dowries.
  • Young child brides of Islamist Taliban are denied educated and are often treated as sex slaves
  • After the death of their militant husbands, Taliban widows are shunned by their family and society alike and remain beyond the reach of government aids

London, August 24, 2017: Fatima’s Taliban husband was so controlling that he refused to allow her to bathe and threatened to burn her face if she dared wear makeup, suspicious that his 12-year-old Afghan wife was trying to make herself attractive to other men.

He would not let her step outside their home in Afghanistan’s western Farah Province, even when she fell sick, and beat her for burning her hand baking bread, complaining that her mother had taught her nothing to justify the dowry he paid.

“My father sold me to a man at a time when I didn’t know anything about the responsibilities of marriage,” she told Reuters in a phone interview from the capital, Kabul, where she and her young daughter are hiding.

“He became my lawful husband and began to rape me and beat me every single day for not consenting [to sex],” said the 18-year-old, who would not give her full name.

Child and forced marriage are outlawed but remain common in Afghanistan, particularly among poor families eager for dowries.

Half of all girls are married by the age of 15.

ALSO READ: Ghana Chooses Girls Over Brides, Launches ‘End Child Marriage’ Campaign

Among the most invisible victims are the wives of Islamist Taliban hardliners who, when in power, barred women from education and most work and ordered them to wear burqas outside the home, before being overthrown in 2001 by U.S.-led forces.

“Being family members of the most dangerous and ruthless fighters who have plenty of enemies among the people makes it difficult for these women,” said Shukria Barakzai, a parliamentarian and women’s rights campaigner. “They are treated as sex slaves and left completely helpless.”

Taliban child brides
Taliban women are denied access to education or work and are ordered to wear burqas and stay inside houses. VOA

Agonized, emboldened

When their militant husbands die, life often gets worse for young Taliban brides. Their families are too scared to take them in, society treats them as pariahs, and they risk further violent abuse as unprotected single women.

About a year into their marriage, Fatima’s 25-year-old husband — she calls him a “veteran criminal” with stockpiles of ammunition in their home — blew up a police officer and was jailed for 18 years.

He was released in late 2016, after serving just four years — a common phenomenon in Afghanistan, where the Taliban often hold influence over the government.

But he never came home.

His brothers told Fatima they believed he had sacrificed himself in a suicide attack and become a martyr.

A Taliban spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, estimates that several hundred women become Taliban widows each year.

“My brother-in-law was planning to force me to marry him and sell my four-year-old daughter to a Taliban commander,” she said, referring to the dowry that would be paid for her child.

“This evil plan agonized me and at the same time emboldened me to run away, regardless of the consequences.”

Under the pretext of attending a village wedding with her mother-in-law, Fatima ran away with her child.

Her father would not take her in, but her cousins helped her get to Kabul.

“Every one of my in-laws is a Taliban member and they vowed to slay my whole family to bring justice,” she said.

To the Taliban, justice means killing Fatima and her family for the shame she brought by running away from home.

Taliban widows and child brides
Tliban widows continue to remain outside the reach of government and rights groups to seek support. VOA

Jihadis in training

Zari, another Taliban widow, who was forcibly married at the age of 14, was not so lucky.

Three years after her husband died in a suicide attack, she remains trapped in southern Afghanistan’s Helmand Province, tormented by his cousins who rape her repeatedly and are raising her sons, aged nine and 11, to become jihadis.

The men, who are members of the Taliban, come to the house where she lives with her elderly mother-in-law a couple of times a week to rape her, threatening to kill her if she tells anyone.

“I urge the government to rescue me and my sons as their future is in grave danger,” the 26-year-old, who declined to give her real name, said in a phone interview.

“They plan to send both of my sons to Pakistan to participate in jihad. … They take my elder son for religious indoctrination and training to become a militant like his father.”

Neither the government nor rights groups can access Taliban widows living with their in-laws in remote, rebel-controlled territory. Conflict makes it impossible for them to provide for themselves, forcing them to live with their in-laws.

Neither boy goes to school because Zari cannot afford books or uniforms with the money she earns weaving or from her cows.

“I want to escape with my sons, but my family is not ready to accept me and jeopardize themselves,” she said, adding that her family did not know they were marrying her into the Taliban.

ALSO READ: Taliban Terrorist Group behead 30-year-old Afghan Woman for Divorcing Husband and living with another Man

Afghanistan has about 5 million widows, said a spokeswoman for the women’s affairs ministry, Kobra Rezai. It can only afford to provide about 100,000 of them with about $100 a month in financial support and skills training, she said.

None are Taliban widows.

The government does not want to be seen to be supporting them, Rezai said, a position condemned by Barakzai, the parliamentarian.

“Circumstances push [Taliban widows] into a precarious position and compel them to continue their lives as sex slaves in the hands of Taliban,” she said. “Even their children have no way out of this vicious trap.” (VOA)

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Taliban Warns Phone Companies to Shut Down Their Coverage in Ghazni

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Taliban Ghazni
Members of the Taliban gather in Ghazni province, Afghanistan. voa

Ghazni, Washington October 11: Taliban militants have ordered mobile phone companies to shut down their networks at dark in central Ghazni province, provincial police authorities told VOA.

In a bid to mitigate risks, the insurgent group has asked telecom operators in Ghazni province to halt operations from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. in order to make it difficult for the Afghan forces to get intelligence and tips on militants through mobile phones.

The insurgent group has destroyed several telecom towers in the restive province over the last three days.

“The recent uptick in airstrikes against militants is causing increasing casualties in Taliban ranks. The militants want to destroy telecom towers to disturb communications,” Fahim Amarkhil, a police spokesperson in Ghazni told VOA.

The Taliban has said Afghan and U.S. forces use the network signals to locate the group’s fighters.

In addition to Ghazni, the insurgent group has asked mobile phone companies to halt their networks’ coverage in several other provinces as well, an official of a major cell phone company in Kabul told VOA on the condition of anonymity.

The official added that in many cases, the operators have no option but to comply with what the insurgents want.

The disruption in telecom services have angered customers in Ghazni who rely on mobile phone as their only means of communication. The residents fear that if the government does not address the issue in a timely manner, the telecom companies may end their operation in the province.

“Some time ago, the Taliban had warned the telecom companies to pay taxes to the Taliban, not to the government, and the issue was resolved,” Jamil Weqar, an activist in Ghazni told VOA. “But this time, they destroyed the towers which has created many problems [for customers],” he added.

The telecommunication sector in Afghanistan has made tremendous progress following the fall of the Taliban and the establishment of a new government in the post-2001 era. With little to no access to cell phones and the internet 15 years ago, the country now has more than 20 million mobile phone subscribers, covering more than 85 percent of the population.

New strategy

The communication blackout comes as the new U.S. strategy in Afghanistan is increasing military pressure on militant groups across the country. The new plan includes a more intensive use of airpower against militants.

The latest official data shows U.S. forces dropped 751 bombs in September against the Taliban and militants linked to the so-called Islamic State terror group in Afghanistan. This is the largest number of bombs dropped on militants in a single month since 2012.

“This increase can be attributed to the president’s strategy to more proactively target extremist groups that threaten the stability and security of the Afghan people,” according to a summary from the U.S. Air Force’s Central Command.

U.S.-backed Afghan forces are trying to regain control of areas and districts lost to the Taliban across the country.

The government has said it controls nearly two-thirds of the country’s 407 districts. Taliban reportedly control 33 districts, less than 10 percent of the national total. Around 116 districts are “contested” areas, according to a recent U.S. military assessment. (voa)

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Bandhan Tod : The Latest Mobile App to End Child Marriage in India’s Bihar

Despite a law banning girls from marrying before they turn 18, the practice is deeply rooted in tradition and widely accepted in Indian society.

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Child marriage
Child bride Krishna, 12, stands at a doorway into her compound in a village near Baran, in India's Rajasthan state. Despite a law banning girls from marrying before they turn 18, the practice is deeply rooted in tradition and widely accepted in Indian society. (VOA)

Bihar, September 20, 2017 : A mobile phone app is the latest tool for campaigners seeking to end child marriage in India’s Bihar state, where nearly two-thirds of girls in some of its rural areas are married before the legal age of 18.

The app, Bandhan Tod, was developed by Gender Alliance — a collective of more than 270 charities in Bihar focused on gender rights — and launched this week by Deputy Chief Minister Sushil Kumar Modi. It is backed by the U.N. Population Fund.

India ranks among countries with the highest rates of child marriage in the world, accounting for a third of the global total of more than 700 million women, according to UNICEF, the United Nations children’s agency.

Bandhan Tod — meaning “break the binds” — includes classes on child marriage and dowries and their ill effects. It also has an SOS button that notifies the team when activated.

ALSO READ Ghana Chooses Girls Over Brides, Launches ‘End Child Marriage’ Campaign

“The app is a big part of our efforts to end child marriage in the state,” said Prashanti Tiwary, head of Gender Alliance.

“Education is good, but when a young girl wants help because she is being forced to marry before the legal age, the app can be her way out,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Despite a law banning girls from marrying before they turn 18, the practice is deeply rooted in tradition and widely accepted in Indian society. It is rarely reported as a crime and officials are often reluctant to prosecute offenders.

While boys also marry before the legal age of 21, girls are disproportionately affected.

Risks of abuse, death rise

Early marriage makes it more likely that girls will drop out of school, and campaigners say it also increases risks of sexual violence, domestic abuse and death in childbirth.

Legal efforts have failed to break the stranglehold of tradition and culture that continues to support child marriage, charity ActionAid India said in a report this year.

When the SOS on Bandhan Tod is activated, the nearest small NGO will attempt to resolve the issue. If the family resists, then the police will be notified, said Tiwary.

A similar app in West Bengal state to report child marriage and trafficking of women and children has helped prevent several such instances, according to Child in Need Institute, which launched the app in 2015.

ALSO READ Mobile Applications Ensure Public Safety in Rio De Janerio

Other efforts include a cash incentive, where the state transfers a sum of money to the girl’s bank account if she remains in school and unwed at age 18.

Suppliers of wedding tents in Rajasthan state have stopped dozens of child marriages by alerting officials.

“It will take a change in mindset and behavior to end child marriage,” said Tiwary, who is lobbying the government to raise the marriage age for women to 21, so they have the same opportunities as men.

“But technology provides a practical and accessible way to help prevent it on the ground,” she said. (VOA)

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No Safe Haven for Terrorists in the Country, Asserts Pakistan ; Becomes Vary of Coercive Action by the US

Rejecting claims of terrorist sanctuaries in Pakistan, Pakistani Defense minister has asserted that his country is not feeling threatened by the U.S. following Trump's harshly worded speech.

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Pakistan police officers fire tear gas shell to disperse Shiite Muslims during an anti-U.S rally, when they tried to march toward the U.S. consulate, in Karachi, Pakistan, Sunday, Aug. 27, 2017. (AP Photo/Fareed Khan) (VOA)
  • U.S. President Donald Trump in his speech called out Pakistan for harboring terrorist organizations, including the Taliban and Haqqani network
  • US considering strict measures like increasing diplomatic and economic pressure, and intensifying anti-terrorism drone strikes to keep terrorist sanctuaries under check in Pakistan
  • Pakistani ministers have rejected claims of hosting any terrorist sanctuaries 

Islamabad, September 6, 2017 : Pakistan says it seeks to amicably resolve issues with the United States, cautioning “any [coercive] American action” would cause instability in the country.

The remarks by Defense Minister Khurram Dastgir Khan came days after U.S. President Donald Trump singled out Pakistan for harboring terrorist organizations, including the Taliban and Haqqani network, which destabilize Afghanistan and plot attacks on American troops there.

Trump did not outline what actions he might order to pressure Islamabad to move against the alleged terrorist sanctuaries. A range of punitive measures reportedly is being considered, though, such as increasing diplomatic and economic pressure, and intensifying and expanding anti-terrorism drone strikes inside Pakistan.

terrorists in Pakistan
Pakistani protesters burn posters of U. S. President Donald Trump in Peshawar, Pakistan, Wednesday, Aug. 30, 2017. Protesters have rejected Trump’s allegation that Islamabad is harboring militants who battle U.S. forces in Afghanistan. (AP Photo/Muhammad Sajjad) (VOA)

Speaking to reporters Tuesday in Islamabad, Defense Minister Khan again rejected that there are any terrorist sanctuaries in Pakistan. He said Pakistani security forces already have taken action against all terrorist groups and are in the process of eliminating their “remnants” in the country.

Minister Khan also cited U.S. military assessments that say less then 60 percent of Afghan territory is under the control or influence of the Kabul government.

“That is why we are all gravely concerned about the fact that 40 percent of Afghanistan has perhaps become a safe haven [for terrorists],” he said.

US relationship

The Pakistani minister added that his country is not feeling threatened by the U.S. following the harshly worded Trump speech.

“However, we are maintaining an extremely strict monitoring of our land, sea and air frontiers,” noted Khan.

He sounded upbeat, though, about “better and quality future engagements” between Islamabad and Washington.

Khan said the Pakistani foreign minister, Khawaja Muham­mad Asif, plans to travel to Washington for official talks after consulting key regional partners, including China, Russia, Iran and Turkey.

“We are trying to resolve the issues amicably because any American action would cause instability in Pakistan,” the defense minister warned.

BRICS on terrorism

On Monday, China, and the four other countries that comprise the BRICS group of major emerging economies — India, Russia, Brazil and South Africa — agreed to boost cooperation against terrorist organizations threatening the region.

A statement issued after a BRICS’ leaders’ summit hosted by China contained the names of Pakistan-based, Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad militant groups blamed for orchestrating attacks against India. Pakistani authorities already have outlawed the organizations.

terrorist in Pakistan
In this April 3, 2012, Hafiz Mohammed Saeed, chief of Jamaat-ud-Dawwa and founder of Lashkar-e-Taiba, talks with the Associated Press in Islamabad, Pakistan. (VOA)

Responding to the BRICS’ announcement, Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry said it also is concerned about the threat posed by terrorism and extremism in South Asia.

In a brief statement, the ministry pointed to the presence of terrorist groups in “the ungoverned spaces of Afghanistan,” including the Pakistani Taliban and its associates like Jamaatul Ahrar, Islamic State and anti-China militants.

“Pakistan also remains concerned at the rise of extremist ideologies and intolerance in the region encouraging social stratification and systematic targeting of minorities,” the statement reads.

Islamabad alleges that India is partnering with the Afghan intelligence agency to support anti-state militants sheltering in Afghanistan to plan attacks against Pakistan, charges Kabul and New Delhi reject. (VOA)