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Child Rape Case Shocks Afghan Province

Locals accuse government of indifference.
By Safiullah Amiri

A case of child rape in the western Afghan city of Herat has highlighted concerns that the state is powerless to bring perpetrators of sexual violence to justice.

The 12-year-old girl, who has special needs, was seized on her way home one day and gang raped by unknown assailants.

She remains hospitalised in the psychiatric wing of Herat’s regional hospital. Family members said that she has been so traumatized that she becomes hysterical at the sight of men.

 “I pray God to punish them [the perpetrators],” her mother said. “Then I also call on the government to arrest and bring the assailants to justice.”

Abdul Ahad Walizada, the spokesman for Herat police chief, said, “So far, no one has been arrested in connection to this case, but it is being investigated.”

Waheed Noorzad, head of the department where the girl is being treated, said that the trauma would leave a livelong scar. Since March 2018, seven cases of sexual assault had been recorded at the hospital.

Locals said that the incident was particularly shocking as it came during the holy month of Ramadan, and called for the perpetrators to be caught and an example made of them.

“This is not the first time we’ve heard about such an incident,” said Herat resident Aziz Ahmad. “We’ve heard such reports several times in the past, but never about the perpetrators being punished.”

Zainab, a law student at Herat University, also said that she had heard of numerous similar assaults on children.

“What disappoints me most is that the government and the public remain indifferent to such crimes,” she said. “Hearing the news of a child being gang-raped, the people should rise up and hold demonstrations to demand the government bring the perpetrators to justice.

“If we don’t make the government focus on this, we may see more such incidents,” Zainab concluded.

Women’s rights activist Marya Bashir said that corruption and inefficiency within the justice system meant that few perpetrators of sexual violence were even brought to trial.

She noted that according to paragraph 2 of article 17 of the groundbreaking Law on the Elimination of Violence Against Women, perpetrators of a sexual assault on an underage girl can be sentenced to life in prison. If the victim dies due to the assault, then they are sentenced to death.

The law prohibits a range of abuses from assault and rape to marriages that were coercive, involve minors or amount to a transaction between two families.  However, implementation has been patchy.

The UN highlighted the lack of action over this crucial law in a report last month, in which it severely criticized the Afghan government for its shortcomings in processing VAW cases.

In this year’s annual report, the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) noted 228 cases of violence against women reported nationwide in 2017. It was impossible to know exact figures of such assaults, the report continued, as most people tried to keep such incidents secret.

Sohaila Sabri, public awareness officer of Herat’s provincial department of women’s affairs, agreed that it was still uncommon for sexual assaults to be reported to the authorities.

She said that her office had recorded around 40 cases of sexual assault over the last two years, explaining many incidents, especially involving children, were not reported to the authorities due to issues of shame. At best, these assaults were resolved through traditional justice procedures or mediation by tribal elders.

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