Afghan woman's choice: Wed rapist or stay in jail

Dec 03, 2011, 07:24 IST | Kabul
An Afghan woman jailed for adultery after she was raped by a relative is set to be freed -- but only after agreeing to marry the man who raped her. The case, which has highlighted the plight of Afghan women jailed for so-called moral crimes, was the subject of a documentary film funded by the European Union -- until diplomats censored it out of fear for the woman's welfare, and for their relations with the Afghan government.

Still oppressed: Human rights activists says Afghan women are still
denied their rights and half the women in Afghan jails have been
imprisoned for 'moral crimes'. Pic/AFP

But the decision not to broadcast the film unintentionally caused a storm of publicity that resulted in Afghan President Hamid Karzai intervening in the case of the 19-year-old woman, named Gulnaz. Karzai, who is going to an international conference on Afghanistan in Bonn on Monday to seek financial support from foreign donors, ordered Gulnaz to be released on condition that she and her attacker agree to mediation.

In a statement, the presidential palace said Gulnaz would be released after she agreed to become the second wife of her rapist -- a prospect that supporters say she had dreaded. In Afghan culture, marrying the father of a child born out of wedlock is seen as a way of "legitimising" the child, even in cases involving rape.

Without an option
The documentary's British director, Clementine Malpas, said Gulnaz's decision would have been made under duress. "She has told me that the rapist had destroyed her life because no one else would marry her after what happened to her," she said.

"She feels like she has no other option than to marry him and it's the only way to bring peace between her and his family." The case is far from unique. Roughly half of the country's 600 adult female prison inmates have been imprisoned for similar "offences".

Heather Barr, Human Rights Watch's Afghanistan researcher, who has spent the past month visiting female prisoners for an upcoming report on "moral crimes", welcomed the release of Gulnaz and said she hoped there was a review of all the cases of female prisoners.

"There are hundreds of women in this situation and it is well overdue to look at the injustices done to them," she said.

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