Four months ago in rural northern Afghanistan, a 14-year-old girl spilled a terrible secret to her parents. She said she had been sexually assaulted. And the 32-year-old cleric who harmed her, she said, was her cousin.
The parents sat on the crime until Monday of this week. Then, Reuters reports, they invited the mullah over for dinner. They restrained the man by tying his hands and feet. Then, as an act of revenge, they cut off his nose and ears. “I don’t know if a cat ate his ears,” said father Abdul Qahar, who wore a turban and spoke in the Dari language. “But his nose went down the drain.”
Reports in this region of the world are notoriously unreliable, and as of Thursday morning, it was unclear whether the maimed man had confessed to the sexual assault or not. Reuters says he denied sexually assaulting the child. But Australia’s SBS reports that the “cleric admitted he had abused the girl three months ago using anesthesia.”
Either way, the alleged sexual assault and the subsequent act of violence reflect broader cultural forces in the war-ravaged, profoundly conservative nation of 30 million, where violent assaults of women aren’t uncommon. One of the objectives of the U.S. war in Afghanistan was to foster broader rights for women, but today little appears to have changed. The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission said this year the number of attacks on women increased by 25 percent in 2013.
“Violence against women is widespread and deeply-rooted as well as acute,” one U.N. Office of Human Rights study found. “The violence which scars the lives of a huge proportion of Afghan women and girls is rooted in Afghan culture, customs, attitudes, and practices.”
Two of those customs, the study reported, were violence that keeps Afghan women from leading vibrant lives — and rape. “This ugly crime is an everyday occurrence in all parts of the country,” the United Nations says. “It is a human rights problem of profound proportions. Women and girls are at risk of rape in their homes and in their communities, in detention facilities and as a result of traditional harmful practices to resolve feuds.” Many of these men go unpunished because of their position in society, or because shame keeps victims quiet.
This, however, did not happen Monday night. Police arrested the parents of the allegedly assaulted girl Tuesday after discovering what had happened. “They tied his arms and legs and cut his nose and ears off with a knife,” policeman Javid Basharat told reporters. They told SBS that the girl “did not know what her cousin was doing to her” because she had been drugged with anesthesia.
“After the abuse,” the police officer said, “she told her parents, and they decided to take their revenge.”