My Body My Rights: Country Cases

11 years old, forced into marriage, abused for resisting sexual exploitation

Sahar Gul told Amnesty International she was just 11 years old when her family sold her as a child bride to a 30-year-old man. Her husband, Ghulam Saki, was a soldier serving in the Afghan national army. He bought her for some 260,000 AFN (about $4,600 USD), and took her to the house he lived in with his family.

“I was married when I was just 11 years old. I was very little, I didn’t know how married life is and what happens after the wedding. When I saw women coming to our home to take me I cried and I didn’t want to go, but no one really cared about my tears and no one was listening. I didn’t want to go and live in another place with other people, it was frightening.”

Shortly after the marriage, Sahar disappeared for several months. Eventually her family reported her disappearance to local police. Officers discovered her barely conscious, covered in bruises and unable to speak or stand.

She had been locked in the dark, wet cellar of her in-laws’ house, and they had beaten and abused her when she resisted being forced to have sex with other men.

Sahar later told Amnesty International that her in-laws repeatedly beat her, burned her with cigarettes and an iron, and pulled out her fingernails and hair. This went on for six months.

After she had told neighbours about the abuse, her husband’s family locked her in the cellar. They barely gave her any food or water. Although neighbours informed the police, officials did not immediately step in to protect her, but left her with the abusive in-laws.

Sahar’s husband and brother-in-law fled when police finally arrived at their home. They are still at large. Her mother-in-law, sister-in-law and father-in-law were arrested, found guilty of attempted murder and sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Although their convictions were upheld on an initial appeal, the Kabul Appeal court later overturned them, and her in-laws were released from prison after one and a half years behind bars. After a further appeal, they were given a five year sentence.

Stories like Sahar Gul’s are widespread in Afghanistan, where authorities usually dismiss reports of domestic abuse as a family matter and often refuse to intervene to protect the victims.

Now aged 16, Sahar is living in a women’s shelter and studying at a local school. She is determined to stop other girls suffering from the same experience and has ambitions to become a politician in Afghanistan.

“My aim is to become a women rights’ activist, open shelters for women at risk in Afghanistan and help women who suffered from violence. I want to protect other women. I think about how I could have been killed by my in-laws and there was no one to protect me. I want to end violence in Afghanistan… I don’t want to see other women suffer the same way I did or in any other way.”

The cost of confusion

In 2012 Savita Halappanavar was hospitalized with a threatened miscarriage. She asked for an abortion, but it was denied. Savita went into sepsis and died a few days later.

While an investigation found Savita’s death was primarily caused by medical failure to recognize her condition was deteriorating to the point where her life was at risk, the case again threw Ireland’s restrictive anti-abortion laws under the spotlight.

Abortion is illegal in Ireland, except in cases where there is a “real and substantial” risk to the life – rather than the health – of the woman. This exception was established in 1992 by a Supreme Court ruling on the case of a 14-year-old girl who was pregnant as a result of rape, and was suicidal.

But abortion is still illegal for women who are pregnant as a result of rape or incest, where their health is at risk or in cases of fatal foetal abnormalities. Women face up to 14 years in prison for having an unlawful termination.

As a result more than 150,000 women travelled to the UK for a termination from Ireland between 1980 and 2012; an average of 12 a day. The UK Department of Health has documented that in 2012 alone, 3,982 women travelled to the UK for an abortion.

Gender discrimination and uterine prolapse in Nepal

Kopila is a 30 year old Brahmin woman living  district of Kailali. She married when she was 17 and had her first child one year later. She has four children aged between six and 12. Although Brahmins are the dominant group in the caste hierarchy, Kopila is from a poor family and she never went to school.

The family has a small amount of land and Kopila works in the fields and looks after the cattle. She also does all the household work and takes care of her four children. In her family the practice is that Kopila feeds the children first, then her husband eats and finally she eats.

If Kopila is feeling unwell, it is her husband who decides whether the problem is serious enough to go to the local health post. Kopila said that she had other pregnancies after her youngest child was born and her husband decided she should end those pregnancies through abortion.

Three of her four children were born at home and one was born in hospital. Kopila explained to Amnesty International that she was only able to take between 10 and 12 days rest after giving birth before she had to start working again. She had to carry heavy loads, including wood, grass and cow dung throughout her pregnancies and soon after giving birth.

As a result, Kopila first experienced uterine prolapse when she was 24. She told Amnesty International: “Twelve days after the birth, I was cutting wood with an axe. My husband asked for water and we had an argument. He beat me hard. I don’t know whether my uterus came out during the time I was cutting wood or after I was beaten. It was the same day that I first got the problem. That was six years ago.

“After that I started feeling back pain and stomach pain and I couldn’t stand straight or sit or do work. I feel pain in my lower abdomen and generally I have back pain when I work hard.”

Kopila said her husband forces her to have sex when she doesn’t want to. And when she tries to refuse, he beats her.

The only time Kopila was able to seek medical assistance for uterine prolapse was shortly after she first experienced the condition. Her husband had gone away and she asked her brother to accompany her to see a doctor. She said: “I showed the problem to the doctor and he pushed my uterus back inside. He said that if it came out again he would insert a ring pessary (a device inserted into the vagina to support the uterus). The doctor told me to rest but I can’t because I have a lot of work to do – work in the field, look after the cattle, take care of the children, heavy work. I didn’t go back when my uterus came out again.”

Kopila explained that previously when she had sought medical help for a different condition while her husband was away, he found out and beat her so badly that she was frightened to go back to the doctor.