Lawyers in Afghanistan recently came to the conclusion that the best way to strike a plea bargain for a rape victim is to grant her the option to marry the man who raped her. This option, they assure, will reduce her criminal incarceration from 12 years to three years at the Badambagh Prison located outside of Kabul.
At the heart of the case is a 21-year-old woman simply known as Gulnaz who was raped by her cousin’s husband several years ago. Prosecutors don’t doubt that she was impregnated by the rapist. Indeed, her child lives in prison with her. But, concern was raised, and her case scrutinized because she failed to report the rape in a “timely” manner. She waited a few months, debating very serious but equally problematic options. The U.S. State Department has commented on the case, stating, “Gulnaz’s situation is one no woman should have to face. Our heartfelt condolences go out to Gulnaz and her young daughter.”
The problem is that the options for rape victims in Afghanistan are draconian and barbaric at best. For example, Gulnaz was sentenced to 12 years in jail after the rape. Her crime? Being a victim of rape is considered a crime of adultery. The options for rape victims are deeply constrained in Afghanistan. Had Gulnaz remained silent, she might have brought dishonor on her family for an out-of-wedlock pregnancy. That could have resulted in murder—an illegal, but nonetheless customary practice in dealing with women who “dishonor” their families. Indeed, women are stoned in Afghanistan. The other option might have been immolation—setting oneself on fire—which unfortunately is more prevalent than previously understood in Afghan society.