Afghan girls paying for their elders’ sins

On my way back from Australia, I picked up a copy of the International Herald Tribune at Singapore’s Changi airport and read a truly shocking story on the front page – a story that was subsequently picked up in the New York Times. It described the practice of ‘baad’, which despite being denounced by the UN as a ‘harmful traditional practice’, is still very much alive and well in Afghanistan, and which is destroying the lives of girls who are affected. Be under no illusion – this is a very current issue, but clearly one that is slipping under the radar; when you discover what ‘baad’ is, however, you will wonder why on earth we are not doing more about it now.

‘Baad’ is the use of abduction of girls as a form of retribution for perceived wrong done by a member or members of their family, and the stories told in the article were appalling. The article in the International Herald Tribune centred on the experience of Shakila, now 10, who was abducted by men carrying guns when she was 8 – 8! – because one of her uncles had run away with the wife of a district strongman. Her memories were of being locked in a filthy room and beaten. Her face still bears the scars caused when she was thrown against a wall. She was starved and tethered like an animal. Girls taken in baad are usually forced into slavery and early marriage, subjected to sexual relations at far, far too early a stage. Not even the idea that a baby can bring unity to warring families can possibly excuse this.

Shakila was unusual in that she escaped, and managed to make her way home, but as a result her family have had to flee their village and leave behind their home and possessions, out of fear of further retribution. Do not imagine, however, that her family’s objection to her abduction was entirely focused on her welfare; her father’s main complaint was that she was already promised in marriage to someone else, and was therefore another man’s property. None of this supported Shakila’s basic human rights as a girl and a woman.

This scandal of the abuse of girls’ rights is happening in far too many pockets of the world. It is outrageous that we should be encountering this in our day and age; we have to speak up and make a change. It is precisely this sort of behaviour against which Plan, the children’s charity, campaigns – go to their website now and take their vow against early marriage, and support in any other way you can. We cannot let other girls like Shakila suffer.

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