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Afghan Man Cuts Off Wife's Nose, Lips

Aisha, who appeared on the cover of "Time" magazine in 2010, was not the last Afghan woman to be so disfigured.
A heroin addict was in need of a fix but had no money. So he ordered his wife to sell her jewelry and, when she refused, he hacked off her nose and lips.

Thirty-year-old Sitara, who barely survived the brutal attack, says she suffered her horrific injuries at the hands of her husband, Azim.

It was hours before neighbors discovered Sitara in her home in the Anjil district of western Afghanistan's Herat Province. There they found her unconscious, covered with blood, and her nose and lips lying next to her on the floor.

Sitara was rushed to the hospital, where doctors were able to stabilize her condition. The incident created huge waves in the local and national media, prompting the Interior Ministry to launch a manhunt for Azim, who fled after the December 13 incident.

But while the authorities continue to search for Azim, hope for Sitara has grown.

On December 17, she was sent to Turkey to receive reconstructive surgery she could not get in Afghanistan. Dozens of Afghan women's rights activists accompanied her to Kabul's airport to show their support.

Violence Against Women Still Common

Sitara's story is all too common in Afghanistan, where violence against women is widespread.

Despite women making significant inroads since the end of Taliban rule, domestic abuse remains routine, forced marriages are the norm, and women are discouraged from going to school or working outside the home. Suicide rates among women are among the highest in the world.

Sitara's story is all too common in Afghanistan, where violence against women is widespread.
Sitara's story is all too common in Afghanistan, where violence against women is widespread.

Sitara's four young children witnessed the mutilation firsthand. It was their screams and sobbing that attracted the attention of their neighbors.

Fereshta, Sitara's 14-year-old daughter, says her father had a long history of drug abuse and would often beat her siblings and mother when money ran out. "Every time my mother refused to give money to my father, he would beat her," she told local media on December 15.

Sima Samar, the head of Afghanistan's Independent Human Rights Commission, described the incident as barbaric. "This act is against human dignity. The perpetrator must be arrested and charged," she told a press conference in Kabul on December 16. "It can't be an excuse that he has run away -- police must take this seriously."

Police have arrested two people in connection with the incident. But their identities have not been revealed. Sitara's children have been placed under the care of relatives while she receives treatment abroad.

Sitara's treatment is being funded by the Counternarcotics Ministry and through money raised by several Afghan NGOs. Herat Governor Sayed Fazlullah Wahidi has agreed to support her family until she returns home.

Only Getting Worse

People in Herat have staged several protests in the last few days to demand justice. Demonstrators have accused the government of failing to prosecute perpetrators of violence against women and criticized religious figures over their silence after the attack.

The provincial department for women's affairs recently disclosed that 180 cases of violence against women have been registered this year -- an increase of more than 30 percent over last year.

A new United Nations report released this month showed the number of cases increasing across the country. The UN reported an almost 30 percent increase in cases of violence against women compared to last year.

Afghanistan enacted a landmark Elimination of Violence Against Women law in August 2009. The law criminalizes child marriage, selling and buying women to settle disputes, assault, and other acts of violence and abuse against women.

But the UN report says prosecutions of such cases have increased by only 2 percent compared to last year. The report concludes that the implementation of the law has been "slow and uneven."

More Aishas To Come?

Those numbers will do little to calm fears that the gains achieved by women over the past decade could be lost once international forces depart at the end of 2014. Their presence, along with millions of dollars in foreign aid and assistance, were seen as supporting the reestablishment of women's rights.

Sitara's story is reminiscent of another case that exposed the abused faced by Afghan women to the world.

Aisha, an Afghan teenager, came to symbolize the problem after a photo of her nose-less face appeared on the cover of "Time" magazine in the United States in 2010.

Aisha's abusive husband had beaten her and then hacked off her nose after she attempted to run away from home. Aisha underwent reconstructive surgery in the United States, where she currently resides.
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    Frud Bezhan

    Frud Bezhan is the editor for Afghanistan, Iran, and Pakistan in the Central Newsroom at RFE/RL. Previously, he was a correspondent and reported from Afghanistan, Kosovo, and Turkey. Prior to joining RFE/RL in 2011, he worked as a freelance journalist in Afghanistan and contributed to several Australian newspapers, including The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.