Source: Associated Press
Aatifa set herself alight because she could not endure her life a minute longer.
Aatifa, and thousands of teenage girls like her are forced into marriages in Afghanistan, usually with much older men. This cannot be called anything other than the sexual abuse of minors. Hundreds of girls and women die every year after they self immolate because their lives have become intolerable. If they report their beatings and other abuse to authorities, their husbands’ abusive behaviour is supported by the authorities. Despite the decade’s long war in Afghanistan, I don’t believe anything has really changed. Any changes made are superficial and lauded by warmongers in the West, but brutal Islamic culture is entrenched and will take hundreds of years to change; to embrace freedom and equality for females, Arab Spring or no Arab Spring. Islamic culture is stronger than ever and to my mind shows no signs of abating in the Arab World or beyond.
Aatifa, forced into marriage as a fourteen-year-old, doused herself in gasoline, then lit a match; she believed it would be better to die than to continue to suffer at the hands of her husband and his family. The fire engulfed two-thirds of her tiny body. If this is was a choice for Aatifa, then one can only imagine what evils she had been subjected to.
Aatifa’s cries of pain and “Allah” resound through the hospital where she is being treated. Not that Islam has ever been, or will be, a comfort to this young girl. Her future, if she recovers, will not be a bright one. She will be ‘tainted goods’, spurned by women and men alike. It’s possible even her own father and brothers will now abuse her for the sake of their ‘honour’.
Now 16 years old, Aatifa’s big blue eyes alternate between flashes of anger and floods of tears. She explains that she was also beaten because her mother visited her too often. She complained to authorities who berated her for ‘trying to cause trouble’. Later, her husband told her he hated her and was going to marry another woman. Aatifa descended into depression, seeing no future for herself.
Aatifa was lucky (perhaps a moot point) that her brother (one of nine siblings) found her and smothered the flames with his clothing. Although she lives in the sophisticated city of Herat, like the rest of Islamic Afghanistan, females there have no independent rights. In the past year alone, doctors at a burns unit in the city hospital have seen 83 cases of self-immolation, with nearly two-thirds proving fatal. Given what these women and girls endure, one can be forgiven for wondering if the lucky ones are those who have died from their self-inflicted injuries.
But it is not just Afghanistan’s men who abuse their child wives. Mothers-in-law can be just as brutal to the teens. Another young girl forced into marriage was abused by her husband and his mother because she did not do the housework to their satisfaction. The young mother has been prevented from seeing or holding her 10 month old daughter because of her lack of housekeeping skills. Although this is the reason she has been given, it is not unknown for girl babies born in Afghanistan to be left to die (against their mothers’ wishes), simply because they are girls. Many a young mother has been viciously beaten for having given birth to one daughter or more. Sons are and always have been, prized possessions in Afghanistan. Girls and women are devalued.