Every once in while a story comes along that makes you think. For me this is one of those stories. It is not so much that a 7-year-old girl was raped. It is not so much that two brothers 18 and 24 raped her. It is not so much that the brothers' sister helped them. It is not so much that nobody outside the girl's family seemed to care. It is not so much that the girl's parents had to flee to seek justice. It is not so much that this is not an isolated incident. It is not so much that this little girl has suffered severe psychological damage. It is not so much that the rape reflects badly on the girl's family. It is all of the above!
Can any society be so morally depraved as to condone such a vile, reprehensible act? This story appeared in a number of online publications. Below is the complete story without any further comments or editing.
KABUL, AFGHANISTAN — The family of a 7-year-old Afghan girl raped by two men has come forward to demand justice, defying social customs that view such attacks as a stain on the victim's honor. Two months after the rape, the girl is still in pain, rarely speaks and looks no one in the eye.
Two brothers — identified only as 18-year-old Ismat and 24-year-old Mohammad — allegedly asked their teenage sister to lure the girl to their home in the Jaghuri district of Ghazni province and raped her until she lost consciousness, according to human rights officials and advocates handling the case.
The suspects were briefly held by police and then freed. Rights officials suspect they used personal contacts or bribes to secure their release.
The girl's family fled north to the capital, leaving home under cover of darkness.
"The district chief went to the uncle and said if they complain any further or go to Kabul, he's going to personally come and kill them," said Manizha Naderi, director of the advocacy organization Women for Afghan Women, which is helping the girl's family.
Jaghuri district chief Khada Dad Erfani denied any threat, and claimed tribal elders and relatives of the girl and the brothers intervened, preferring to handle the case through tribal law instead of potentially embarrassing legal proceedings.
He raised no doubts about the brothers' guilt.
"They didn't want this to be followed up through the justice system of the government because they said this would give a very bad name to their area and the people living there," Erfani said.
The younger brother has been re-arrested, but the elder is at large, he said.
Interviews with officials from Women for Afghan Women and the Afghan human rights commission produced similar accounts of how the girl was invited to the brothers' home.
The two suspects' 15-year-old sister knew the 7-year-old because they grazed sheep together. The sister invited the girl to eat cheese and then left her with Ismat and Mohammad, said Jamila Zafar, a social worker who is counseling the girl and her family.
After attacking the child, the brothers left her unconscious near the family home. When she came to, she went home and complained of stomach pains for a few days, Zafar said. The family then took her to the hospital, where doctors examined the girl and determined she had been raped.
The men were promptly arrested, but Naderi and Zafar said they believed bribes were paid to free them. Human rights commissioner Hangama Anwari said the brothers were released because "there was some relationship" between them and district authorities.
Rape is not uncommon in Afghanistan, but victims rarely come forward because a girl or woman losing her virginity out of wedlock is seen as disgracing her entire family.
Because the crime is seldom reported, there are no reliable statistics on the number of young girls raped, Anwari said. She said it was the second such case in Ghazni this year.
"It's not reported because of family honor. It's very unusual that they're bringing this forward," said Naderi of Women for Afghan Women.
"No one in Afghanistan wants anyone to know their daughter has been raped because a girl's virginity is so highly valued here. If a girl loses her virginity for any reason ... she's not a girl anymore. She's a woman. Unmarriageable."
Families and local elders often take the matter into their own hands and resort to traditional tribal laws, which commonly punish girls for the crimes of their male relatives. Under Afghan law, the sentence for raping a child is life imprisonment.
Zafar said the brothers' relatives offered a 6-year-old girl as a future bride to compensate the victim's family, who rejected the offer.
Erfani said another proposal was that the 7-year-old girl marry a young male relative of the brothers to salvage her honor. The girl's family also turned down this suggestion, he said.
The two men remained free until the victim's uncle and grandmother took the girl to Kabul, where they sought help from the human rights commission and Attorney General Abdul Jabar Sabit.
Sabit ordered an inquiry and said the attackers should be re-arrested, said Ahmad Samir Samimi, his chief of staff.
One of the brothers was detained, Erfani said, adding authorities were "doing our best" to arrest his older brother.
The grandmother, Amir Begum, hopes the 15-year-old sister also will be arrested and punished.
Meanwhile, the young victim — who is not named in this article to protect her identity — is receiving medical treatment and undergoing psychological counseling in Kabul.
Begum described her granddaughter, a second grader, as intelligent and bookish, but said the attack has nearly rendered her mute.
"Now she doesn't want to talk at all, not to anyone, not even me," Begum said.
"The family of these two boys paid money, and they released their sons from police custody," the grandmother said. "We are poor. No one listened to us. Now it's good, the human rights commission is following up this case."
The girl props her skinny frame to one side to alleviate her pain as she plays with dolls and draws in coloring books, writing her name in a neat script — a considerable feat in a country where most of the population is illiterate.
But her play seems mechanical. She does not look people in the eye, and hangs her head, staring at the ground or at the dolls as she sets them gently in a toy cradle and rocks it back and forth.
Only in one fleeting moment was there a glimpse of a little girl's happiness.
Zafar, who has spent days with the 7-year-old, came to say goodbye one evening. The girl perked up at Zafar's voice, and reached out to grab her hand, smiled and kissed it.