Sunday, November 05, 2006

They’d rather die: brief lives of the Afghan slave wives - Sunday Times - Times Online

They’d rather die: brief lives of the Afghan slave wives - Sunday Times - Times Online:

"Five years after the Taliban were ousted from Kabul, the number of Afghan women setting fire to themselves because they cannot bear their lives has risen dramatically.

Gul Zam’s husband and in-laws watched her burning and did nothing. She was saved by a neighbour who poured a bucket of water over her, wrapped her in a sheet and rushed her to hospital. After the doctors removed the sheet, tearing the blisters, she spent 10 days in a coma. Her head had been fused to her chest by the burns. She has endured several operations and will need at least six more before she can move her arms.

“This is a society where being born a woman is not a gift,” said Alberto Cairo, an Italian doctor who runs the Red Cross clinic in Kabul where Gul Zam is being treated. His room is full of fairy lights and a laughing Christmas tree that he has kept up all year because “there didn’t seem to be much happiness”.

A report last week by the UK-based charity Womankind Worldwide said cases like Gul Zam’s were becoming more common because between 60% and 80% of all marriages in Afghanistan were forced. More than half of all girls are married off before the age of 16, some as young as six. Many of these marriages are to settle debts or feuds between tribes. The women are regarded as commodities rather than wives and are often treated like slave workers by their new families.

Those who try to escape often end up in prison like 13-year-old Shabano, jailed in Kandahar for running away from the 50-year-old man to whom her father had sold her. “We don’t have democracy in this country if someone wants a love marriage,” she said, nibbling at grimy nails in the dark, dirty cell. “My father exchanged me for a teenage bride for himself.”

Gul Zam was lucky. Not only was she saved, but unusually her family have decided to support her and her father demanded a divorce. But her story is an indictment of the international community’s failure to improve the lives of Afghan women."

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