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Geopolitics

In Afghanistan, Fighting To End Slavery Of Virgin Girls

'Baad' is a tribal tradition through which a woman is offered as compensation if her relative commits a crime.

Khanwali Adil protesting the enslavement of women
Khanwali Adil protesting the enslavement of women
Ghayor Waziri

KABUL — When clans in Afghanistan fight over land, water or other resources, community elders form a council to mediate the conflict and prevent bloodshed. When a villager kills a member of a rival clan, for instance, this council enacts a practice called "baad" wherein it chooses a young woman from the perpetrator's family and orders her to marry a man from the victim's clan. In theory, the resulting bond between the two families is meant to stop further turmoil. In practice, it is the young woman who pays the price.

Khanwali Adil, 28, says it's time to stand up against the barbaric practice. Surrounded by young activists and university students, he lives in a colorful tent in Kabul, the capital. The tent is decorated with slogans. "Women are not our concubines," says one. "Let's end inhumane treatment of Afghan women," reads another.

"I knew Baad was wrong and unjust…18 months ago I launched a hunger strike for five days in protest," says Adil, who grew up in the rural province of Paktia. "Ten years ago my family received a girl in Baad — she was only two years old — to stop a fight with another clan. It really shocked me. But my family did not support my protest. No one supported me so I left my home."

Two of Adil's sisters — one aged just 12 — were also given away to resolve a dispute. "What happened in my family pushed me to fight against Baad," Adil says. "I have not seen my family for five years."

"I don't go near my house because my brothers are powerful warlords. They have guns and that is what they know. They have threatened me, told me to stop my protest, that it is bringing shame onto the family," he says.

Since Adil moved to Kabul, his campaign has received the support of civil society activists.

"When Mr. Adil's tent was taken by the police in Paktia province and he decided to come to Kabul we supported him and made a tent for him so that he could continue his protest, and it is still here," says activist Nasrullah Safa. "We fully support him. He is protesting to defend women in the right way."

Photo: KBR

Adil says he is embarking on a non-violent struggle to bring about change to a region marred by violence and regressive cultural practices that often target weak and vulnerable groups such as women.

Tofan Mangal, an activist, says there are many traditions in the country that are not Islamic or human. Adil's fight, he says, is a fight for all Afghans. So far, Adil's protest has shown some results.

"First, my family returned the girl they had received as Baad 10 years ago. In Paktia province that was the first time that had happened. Second, the Afghan Ulamas council for the first time declared Baad non-Islamic. And third, my protest is an achievement for all people in this country now. Women and men can follow my way and stand up against Baad," Adil says.

Zeba Haidry, of the Afghan human rights commission, says there is growing awareness that Baad is an inhuman practice. "Compared to the first six months of last year, the numbers of Baad weddings decreased this year," she says. "The main reason is more public awareness and the declaration from the ulamas. Before the ulamas were silent. But after Adil's protest they also declared Baad a crime."

It's not unusual for a Baad bride to be in her early teens or younger, and for the groom to be 50 to 60 years old. There are no official statistics on the number of Baad marriages. Many people in remote areas of Afghanistan still support it.

"I hope my sister or daughter never have to pay (the cost of crime). But sometimes when you want to stop more murders and fights between two families or tribes, one person should sacrifice to stop it. That is why I say Baad tradition is good," says Ahmad Shekeb, a 20-year-old university student in Kabul.

Adil says that girls forced into Baad never live as somebody's wife. They live like slaves to the whole family, he says. Adil has vowed to continue his protest until the practice ends in Afghanistan.

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Society

In Northern Kenya, Where Climate Change Is Measured In Starving Children

The worst drought in 40 years, which has deepened from the effects of climate change, is hitting the young the hardest around the Horn of Africa. A close-up look at the victims, and attempts to save lives and limit lasting effects on an already fragile region in Kenya.

Photo of five mothers holding their malnourished children

At feeding time, nurses and aides encourage mothers to socialize their children and stimulate them to eat.

Georgina Gustin

KAKUMA — The words "Stabilization Ward" are painted in uneven black letters above the entrance, but everyone in this massive refugee camp in Kakuma, Kenya, calls it ya maziwa: The place of milk.

Rescue workers and doctors, mothers and fathers, have carried hundreds of starving children through the doors of this one-room hospital wing, which is sometimes so crowded that babies and toddlers have to share beds. A pediatric unit is only a few steps away, but malnourished children don’t go there. They need special care, and even that doesn’t always save them.

In an office of the International Rescue Committee nearby, Vincent Opinya sits behind a desk with figures on dry-erase boards and a map of the camp on the walls around him. “We’ve lost 45 children this year due to malnutrition,” he says, juggling emergencies, phone calls, and texts. “We’re seeing a significant increase in malnutrition cases as a result of the drought — the worst we’ve faced in 40 years.”

From January to June, the ward experienced an 800 percent rise in admissions of children under 5 who needed treatment for malnourishment — a surge that aid groups blame mostly on a climate change-fueled drought that has turned the region into a parched barren.

Opinya, the nutrition manager for the IRC here, has had to rattle off these statistics many times, but the reality of the numbers is starting to crack his professional armor. “It’s a very sad situation,” he says, wearily. And he believes it will only get worse. A third year of drought is likely on the way.

More children may die. But millions will survive malnutrition and hunger only to live through a compromised future, researchers say. The longer-term health effects of this drought — weakened immune systems, developmental problems — will persist for a generation or more, with consequences that will cascade into communities and societies for decades.

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