What happens to young girls in Afghanistan who run away from forced marriages in desperate search of freedom? They are whipped and hit with sticks, leather straps, and rods, over and over and over. And the men that beat them? Well, their actions are justified. After all, these girls should know better ... In a rather disturbing video clip from CNN, we see a 14-year-old girl being whipped repeatedly after deciding to leave the man she was forced to marry at such a young age. Despite police promises of finding and prosecuting the man that was caught on tape beating her, and laws prohibiting forced marriage and marriage of children under the age of 16, nothing has been done. Sadly, though, this is not that surprising.
Organizations like Women for Afghan Women are coming to the rescue, offering shelter for young runaways, or other women who have been beaten, abused and raped by their husbands (yes, marital rape does occur).
But according to many Afghans — even some government officials — these shelters are evil. Yes, pure evil. They are evil for giving women and girls a place to turn. They are evil for supporting the rights of women and children forced and sold into marriages against their will. After all, women don't deserve freedom, happiness, or an education, right?
Women's rights organizations are the only hope these young women have. Despite the extreme difficulties of operating in such a conservative and traditional society, Women for Afghan Women is succeeding, one abused child bride at a time. The organization is currently in the process of securing a divorce for a 15-year-old girl that was married off to her 45-year-old cousin when she was 13. But not all are so lucky. One girl in their care was sent off to a juvenile detention facility after running away from her husband. Though she is back at the shelter, her family members are threatening to stage a demonstration if she is not immediately returned.
These sad stories represent the plight of an estimated 60% of girls and young women in Afghanistan. Though forced marriages are supposedly illegal, the political turmoil in the country has required the government to focus on other, seemingly more pressing, issues.
But how can we build a stable country or a stable democracy when approximately 50% of the population is without basic human rights? Those helping the country's women and children are not evil; they are saviors.