Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Fleeing Violent Husbands Lands Afghan Women in Prison

Time Magazine

Gul Bibi pulls back her light blue scarf to reveal faded tribal tattoos and sad, almond eyes. She has not seen any of her three children, or other family members, for the five months she has languished in prison. Her "crime": running away from a husband who viciously beat her throughout their nine-year marriage, arranged by her parents when she was 16 to end a land dispute. She finally fled to Kabul from her home in eastern Khost province this summer, with a neighbor named Ajmal. They'd fallen in love and planned to get married, she explains, until her husband took several of his relatives hostage, demanding that she turn herself in to police. Her insistence that she never had sexual relations with her companion doesn't matter to an Afghan justice system that deems her desertion as tantamount to adultery. "It's difficult when a man and women really love each other here," says the 25-year-old ethnic Pasthun. "Now I'm trapped."

Most of the nearly 200 inmates at the Badam Bagh women's prison are runaways like Bibi, confined alongside a smaller number of murderers and drug traffickers. Many of the runaways were forced into marriage as teenagers, in some cases to men as much as three times their age, enduring regular beatings and verbal abuse from their husbands or in-laws. Some fled to be with other men; others simply to find peace. Most expected eventually to be caught and face the consequences, but their lives at home had become intolerable. "When a bird is sitting in a tree, if no one throws a stone it will not leave its nest," laments one sympathetic prison guard. "The same can be said of the women here." [...]

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