“I was usually beaten with cables and sticks. I got pregnant twice but lost my babies because of severe living conditions. In three years, I didn’t leave my in-law’s house even once; I was always locked in a small house,” says Mahnaz.
Mahnaz, 22, is my friend. I met her through my job. She was working in one of the ministries in Kabul. She did not want to hang out a lot or make close friends because she was scared of her husband finding her. She trusted me, so she shared her heart-touching stories and sometimes cried for hours. I tried to cheer her up and would invite her to lunch, but she never agreed to go.
When she was 17 years old, her dad and brothers gave her to “baad” in exchange for a large amount of family debt. Baad is a practice aimed at resolving disputes between families, clans, and tribes by giving women to the family of the perceived victim of a crime. Mahnaz was forced to marry a 35-year-old man who was very cruel and treated her like a slave. She was beaten by her husband and her in-laws, especially her sister-in-law.
After three years of hardship, Mahnaz escaped to Kabul and joined an organization that helped her financially. She lived with other women who were also victims of violence. She is fed up with life and very hopeless. She remains married because her husband is not willing to divorce her. She is in constant fear of her husband turning her into a slave again or killing her. Her family has disowned her, and people look down on her when they find out she has escaped from her married life.
Samia is another victim of baad. Samia’s painful story starts with her father raping a 10-year-old daughter of another villager named Yasin in Baghlan, a northern province of Afghanistan. After her father was arrested, he was ordered to trade off his daughter, who would marry the raped girl’s brother. Samia was seven years old when this happened. She was treated as a slave in Yasin’s house for two years. During this period, Samia faced repeated cruelty. Her in-laws used hot metal pieces to beat her daily, pulled her hair, and even kept her naked outside in freezing weather. After two years, she was released from that family by the government.
The tradition of baad is practiced especially in rural districts and the tribal belt of Afghanistan. It is a punishment the family faces when a male member commits a serious crime. According to research by the Women and Children Legal Research Foundation, 38 percent of baad cases are a result of murder committed by the baad victim’s family members. Usually, the elders of the tribe, tribal jirga, get together to peacefully settle the inter-family disputes by deciding that a girl from the perpetrator’s family must marry somebody from the victim’s family. In this way, the tribal jirga stop social conflicts by sacrificing the lives of Afghan women.
The consequences of giving girls to baad with no attention to their age and desires are domestic violence, prostitution, suicides, and deaths of many women. Yakin Ertürk, special reporter of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights on Violence against Women, stated that she visited an eight-year-old girl who was given away by her family. “The girl—and others like her that I have talked to who were not lucky enough to end up in a protective area—are abused physically as well as sexually. Not only the designated husband, but until the designated husband grows up, other males in the family may abuse her,” Yakin stated.
This inhumane practice has no legal or religious base. In fact, it’s banned in the penal code, but still is practiced in certain areas. In most cases, no one reports to the government. People hear about such cases from the victim’s relatives or friends. My mother informed me about this brutal practice. When I was a kid, she told me several stories of cases she or her friends knew about. However, I didn’t bother thinking about it until I was friends with Mahnaz. Then I understood how hard it is to go through such tough situations in life and how necessary it is to abolish this practice.
I believe in order to help alleviate this problem, we should educate women about their rights, baad practice, and its consequences. Most of the village women are not educated. They don’t know about their rights. They live in harsh conditions, always controlled by men. They are raised with such practices; therefore, they view baad as a good practice.
Furthermore, I believe the tribal jirgas should also be educated. Finally, although baad is criminalized by the Afghan government, the government is not efficient enough to control this practice. The government should send officials to the rural areas to end this practice. If the government becomes more effective and takes care of inter-family disputes, I don’t think people would continue the inhumane practice of baad.
By Sana A.