Sisters Pay for Brothers' Crimes

The authorities seem powerless to prevent women and girls from being condemned to a life of disgrace as punishment for a family member’s crime.

Sisters Pay for Brothers' Crimes

The authorities seem powerless to prevent women and girls from being condemned to a life of disgrace as punishment for a family member’s crime.

Wednesday, 2 March, 2005

Jamila and Mohammad Amin were married recently, but it was not a happy occasion. No one - not their families and least of all the couple themselves - was celebrating.


The marriage was a sentence, imposed by tribal elders under traditional law, to punish Jamila’s brother for murdering Mohammad’s brother.


Such sentences, though against the law of Afghanistan, are not uncommon in Pashtoon villages. Girls are often made to pay the price for the offences of their brothers, under decrees of local councils of elders, or jirgas.


As a result of such judgements, young girls are forced to wed a man who is already married, or a baby girl can be promised to an old man who then marries her when she becomes an adult.


Girls or women who become victims of such judgements are given a title of shame, “de bado shaza”, which literally means “woman of bad”.


De bado shaza are usually transferred to the family of the victim even before they are married. They are often treated badly, punished severely for minor mistakes, forced to do more chores and housework, and not given the same privileges and basics, such as clothing, as other females in the family. They are sometimes treated as though they themselves had committed the crime.


The local and national authorities say they can’t stop the practice because villagers continue to go along with it.


“Tribal laws are not part of our legislation, only part of people’s culture, and if they ignore the rights of a person, we will intervene,” said Ghulam Rabbani Adeeb, general director of laws in the justice ministry, adding that villagers do approach the Kabul authorities for help on occasion.


But such appeals are unusual, and the ministry has difficulty enforcing its will at the local level.


Villagers defend their tradition as the best way to prevent blood feuds that can continue for years in cycles of revenge. Although the families of victims would prefer to take their own revenge, they settle for the jirga’s decision. Those who don’t comply with the elders’ decision may be ostracised or even cast out of the village.


Jamila’s brother, Gul Ahmad, killed Mohammad Alem during his wedding party in Darya Khan village of Khwashi region of Logar province, south of Kabul. But the suspected murderer escaped before he could be arrested.


Two elders of the tribe decreed that the wanted man’s father, Ali Mohammad, should give Jamila and her little sister, Razya, to Mohammad Alem’s family, along with half the wedding expenses.


“I do not want to give my daughters to the family of the person who was killed by my son, but what can I do?” said Ali Mohammad. “If I don’t accept the judgment of the elders, people will never talk to me again.”


Jamila, 19, said, “All girls should be very happy when they marry because we all hope to be a good bride. But our hopes have been destroyed by the judgement of the elders.”


Leaving her family and becoming a de bado shaza has ruined her life, Jamila said. “When I heard about the judgement, I cried a lot and thought that I had been sent to hell.”


Her new husband isn’t happy with the decision either, as he already has a wife and children. “I was not interested in getting married for the second time, but according to our culture, I have to accept the second wife,” he told IWPR.


“If I hadn’t, people would have spoken ill of me and would have told me that I ignored the murder of my brother.”


Razya, who is only seven years old, will be married to another brother, Mirwais, aged five, when they are both of age.


“This is a big attack on the rights of my daughters,” said Mirwari, mother of Jamila and Razya. “Why aren’t people fighting against such laws and cultures? I am surprised that the government does not want to know about this.”


“They should have arrested my son and put him in prison forever, but they were not supposed to put my daughters in such a place - a place that is more dangerous than prison.”


Prisoners at least know that they will one day be released; a de bado shaza is punished for the rest of her life, she said.


In another case, in Dobandi village of the Khwashi region of Logar, 18-year-old Gul Bashra and her seven-year-old sister, Zarmina, were recently ordered to marry the sons of Hussain, because their brother, Adam Khan, eloped with Hussain’s daughter, Najiba, as he could not afford the cost of the wedding.


“Adam Khan has disgraced the family of Hussain,” the jirga said in its verdict. “Therefore, according to Pashtoon culture, the family of Adam Khan should give two girls to the family of Hussain. Then, these two girls should be married to Soor Gul and Gul Nazir, who are sons of Hussain.”


Gul Bushra said that she doesn’t want to marry Soor Gul because he is paralysed in one hand. “This is complete injustice,” she said. “I would have been happier if I had died instead.”


Zarmina says simply, “I don’t want to get married because I am a child.”


According to Pashtoon culture, while both girls will be submitted to Hussain’s family, but Zarmina will not be married until she is old enough.”


“The elders are taking revenge on my daughters for the fault of my son. What have these blameless girls done?” said Jamala, mother of Gul Bashra and Zarmina.


Elders make their decisions based on the criminal laws of their tribal cultures, which, according to oral tradition, date back several thousand years. Pashtoons call these laws and cultures “narkh”.


For example, according to narkh, a person who breaks any part of another person’s body - a finger, a front tooth - will have to give the injured person a girl. If they don’t have a girl, they have to give money equal to the local bride price, typically 5,000 to 10,000 US dollars in Afghanistan.


Compliance with narkh is so engrained in Pashtoon culture that successive modern governments have been unable to end the practice. Even the strict Taleban regime could not outlaw it and was forced to accept some judgements of tribal elders.


Fazil Ahmad Manawi, deputy chief justice of the country’s supreme court, said, “We have specific legislation, and all judgements should be made in a court according to those laws. The security chiefs are supposed to arrest the criminals and submit them to courts, not to tribal elders.”


But Ahmad Nabi, the police chief of Khawashi region of Logar, said that he complies with the will of the local people. “We do arrest the criminals most of the time, but their enemies and heirs come and tell us that they are solving the problem through meetings of the tribe elders.”


“In this case, we have to release the criminals on their guarantee. After making their judgement, the elders of the tribe give us their judgement paper, and we submit this to the court.”


Hakam Khan Chapand is an independent journalist in Kabul.


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