It is an unimaginably hideous outcome. To be raped by your cousin’s husband; be jailed for adultery as your attacker was married; to suffer the ignominy of global uproar about your jailing and assault, but be pardoned by presidential decree; and then to endure the shame and rejection from a conservative society that somehow held you to blame.
The solution in this society? Marry your attacker.
That’s what happened to Gulnaz, who was barely 16 when she was raped. She’s now carrying the third child of her attacker, Asadullah, who was convicted and jailed for 12 years — though this was then reduced.
Gulnaz’s plight — like so much in beleaguered Afghanistan — disappeared from the world’s gaze once she was pardoned and released courtesy of a presidential pardon. Instead of a new start, what followed for Gulnaz was a quiet, Afghan solution to the “problem” — a telling sign of where women’s rights stand in Afghanistan despite the billions that have poured into this country from the U.S. government and its NATO allies during more than a decade of war.
We found Gulnaz in her family home. Smile, the name of the daughter born of the rape, is now a shining little girl, bouncing around the house that her mother shares with Asadullah’s first wife — who is also Gulnaz’s cousin.
Asadullah agreed to let us speak with him and Gulnaz because, it seemed, he wanted to show us that things were now settled, that under Afghanistan’s version of social morality he had done the right thing. He had rescued Gulnaz from shame.
“If I hadn’t married her, (but) according to our traditions, she couldn’t have lived back in society,” he tells us. “Her brothers didn’t want to accept her back. Now, she doesn’t have any of those problems.”
Gulnaz remains subdued throughout our meeting and does not once look her husband in the eye. “I didn’t want to ruin the life of my daughter or leave myself helpless so I agreed to marry him,” she says. “We are traditional people. When we get a bad name, we prefer death to living with that name in society.”
As Smile attempts to pour tea, the other seven children in this household run around the courtyard. The first wife remains unseen in the house. A portrait of Gulnaz’s liberator in 2011, the then-president Hamid Karzai, hangs on the wall. But the sense of order here is undermined by the fact that this is a house built around a crime.