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Afghanistan: For Abducted Girl, Fear Of Honor Killing By Relatives Follows A Rape

Each year several hundred children -- both boys and girls -- are kidnapped in Afghanistan. The children are often sold as brides into forced marriages or as slaves to be worked hard and, sometimes, sexually exploited. Ill treatment does not always end with the children's release from their abductors. RFE/RL looks at Rahima's story.

Prague, 26 November 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Rahima is a 12-year-old girl who was kidnapped on her way home from school in the northern Afghan city of Kunduz.

After 18 days of detention, during which she was raped, Rahima was recently released by law-enforcement agencies.

In an interview with RFE/RL, Rahima said, "At around 1230 I was leaving school, going to my home. And the man came behind me, gagged me, and put me inside a car with red cardboard [on the windows]. They were brutal and they destroyed my life."

Rahima was the second girl from the same school to be kidnapped this year, while three girls were reportedly found dead in Kunduz.

In Rahima's case, Kunduz's security police commander Abdulmutaleb Baig says three people involved were arrested and the file turned over to a prosecutor.
"He destroyed my life. If I want a husband I would marry a young man. Why did he kidnap me? How is it possible to have a relationship with a man of the age of my father?" -- Rahima

"A man kidnapped the girl in Kunduz and left her in Pulaykhumri [city] at the place of a relative. We arrested him. He confessed that he kidnapped the girl and drove her to Pulaykhumri with the help of the security officials. We investigated in accordance with the law, and arrested two other people. There are now in jail," Baig said.

In an effort to crackdown on child kidnapping, President Hamid Karzai issued a decree in June imposing the death sentence on those found guilty of killing a kidnap victim. He also increased the jail term for those guilty of injuring an abducted child.

At the same time, the decree called upon the attorney-general in Kabul and related offices to investigate child-kidnapping cases speedily and forward them to the appropriate court.

Afghanistan saw its first prosecution for child kidnapping in June, when three men were tried in a Kabul court. The court sentenced two of the defendants to five years in jail and the third man to four years.

Today, Rahima lives in the home of a private Kunduz resident, Haji Edembirdi, who has been chosen by a Council of Elders to protect her. The council fears that if she returns home, some of her relatives might kill her to remove what they see as a stain on the family's honor.

Honor killings of women are a pre-Islamic practice in which a woman is murdered or punished corporally -- usually by male members of families -- for her actual or perceived immoral behavior.

Such immoral behavior may take many forms: marital infidelity, refusing to submit to an arranged marriage, demanding a divorce, flirting with a man, or being raped.

But Rahima stresses that she is the victim, that she is the one who was forced to have sexual relations with a 50-year-old man.

"He destroyed my life. If I want a husband I would marry a young man. Why did he kidnap me? How is it possible to have a relationship with a man of the age of my father?" Rahima said.

Hundreds of honor killings are believed to take place every year, mainly in South Asia and the Middle East. In Pakistan alone, rights groups have documented 410 incidents killing for honor in the first nine months of 2004.

Rahima's guardian, Haji Edembirdi, says the test for Afghanistan now is whether the authorities will use the new decrees against child kidnapping to prosecute the powerful men behind the business.

"Some of those people who kidnap girls have contacts with government officials. They are friends or from the same tribe. Government officials cannot prevent such actions. They cannot stop them," Edembirdi said.

Edemberdi says residents are now afraid to send their girls to school.

"People, including myself, whose girls are going to school are concerned about [kidnappings]. And they are considering preventing their girls from going to school. If such a 'shame' happens to me, I would leave Kunduz and even Afghanistan."

(Qadir Habib, from RFE/RL's Afghan Service, contributed to this report.)