Mariam had left her home in Afghanistan’s northern Kunduz province, fleeing to the capital of Kabul to escape her husband’s relentless and increasingly vicious beatings. She called her husband’s cousin for help, and he promised to do what he could. Too busy to come himself he sent a friend who took her to “some house”, held a gun to her head and raped her.
After he was finished with her, Mariam chose her moment, picked up the gun, shot her assailant in the head, and turned the gun on herself. “Three days later I woke up in the hospital,” she said, slowly, shyly removing a scarf from her head to reveal a shaved head and a long jagged scar that ran almost the length of her head where the bullet grazed her scalp.
From the hospital Mariam was sent to a police station and from there to Badam Bagh, Afghanistan’s central women’s prison. For the past three months, Mariam has been waiting to find out why she is in jail, the charges, and when she can leave.
Mariam is one of 202 women living in this six- year- old jail. The majority of the women are serving sentences of up to seven years for leaving their husbands, refusing to accept a marriage arranged by their parents, or choosing to leave their parent’s home with a man of their choice — which are all considered “moral” crimes, says the prison’s director general Zaref Jan Naebi.
Some of the women were jailed while pregnant or with their small children. There are currently 62 children living with their imprisoned mothers. They are sharing the same grey steel bunk-beds and napping in the afternoon hidden behind a sheet draped from an upper bunk. There is a small patch of open space surrounded by a high fence topped with razor wire where the children can play.
While it might not be against the law to run away or escape a forced marriage, the court convicts women fleeing abusive homes with “the intent to commit zina (or adultery)” which are most often simply referred to as “moral crimes.” In the male dominated legal system, Akbar said even when a woman inmate gets in front of the judge, “he says ‘it is her husband, she should go back and make it work. The court believes that it is her fault and not her place to leave him — “not in our society.'”
There are two issues going on here. First, women are being imprisoned for “moral crimes.” Is there such a thing? Is it alright in Afghanistan simply because they have different societal values and gender roles? Second, children are living in these prisons. They are ultimately suffering for their mother’s sins, if we can even call them that. Do you think it is crueler to imprison the children or crueler to take them from their mother?
Article and Picture Source: NBC News