A pregnant Afghan girl in the remote Ghor province was set on fire by her husbands family after they stabbed and tortured her for refusing to work in the opium fields last week.
Zahra, 14, was reportedly married off at age 11 as part of a dispute between Zahra’s father, Muhammad Azam, and another Afghan family, reports The New York Times. Azam worked as a laborer in an Afghan families house and eloped with one of their daughters. Eloping is a serious societal taboo in Afghan society, and Azam gave his then 11 year old daughter to the family for marriage as restitution.
Zahra’s father claims he repeatedly lodged complaints with local authorities that his daughter was being abused by her husbands family, but was rebuffed due to the families prominence in local society. Zahra’s husband’s family alleges Zahra was “urbanized,” a euphemism for morally loose, justifying her punishment. More than 90 percent of Zahra’s body was covered in burns, and she was four months pregnant.
“Except for the soles of her feet, every other part of Zahra’s was burned,” her doctor told The New York Times.
Afghan law prohibits child marriage under the age of 16, but the law is rarely enforced. The Taliban have condoned such practices and now control more of the country than at any time since the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. The Afghan Security Forces and Afghan Local Police are so busy fighting the Taliban, barbaric practices like child marriage and rape of small boys are routinely allowed to pass.
Zahra’s family protested the circumstances of her death, but defended the practice of child marriage to The New York Times. The family began to change its story when presenting it to the police out of fear of being prosecuted for themselves violating child marriage laws. The defense of the practice indicates how deeply ingrained child marriage and lack of rights for women is ingrained in Afghan tribal society. A 2011 U.S. Department of Justice report found 57 percent of marriages in Afghanistan occur before the legal age of 16.
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