Activist fighting to end Baad tradition, the trade of virgin slaves in Afghanistan

In Afghanistan, Baad is a traditional practice of settling disputes among Pashtun and other tribes – that involves the trade of a young woman, ‘gifted’ to the wronged party.


Selasa, 13 Des 2016 12:09 WIB


Ghayor Waziri

Activist fighting to end Baad tradition, the trade of virgin slaves in Afghanistan

In Afghanistan, Baad is a traditional practice of settling disputes among Pashtun and other tribes – that involves the trade of a young woman, ‘gifted’ to the wronged party.

But as Ghayor Waziri reports from Kabul, one young Afghan man is standing up against the tradition.

Baad is enacted in the event of a death, when a villager kills a member of a rival clan. 

Sometimes clans have fatal fight over land, or resources like water.

The elders of the community then form a jirga, or council, to mediate the conflict and try and prevent further bloodshed. The jirga typically 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. But in practice, it is the young women who pay the price.

Khanwali Adil says it’s time to stand up against the barbaric practice.

Adil is 28, and he lives in a tent in Kabul, surrounded by young activists and university students.

The colorful tent is decorated with banners bearing pictures of women, inscribed with moving slogans. 

“Women are not our concubines,” reads one,  “Let’s end inhumane treatment of Afghan women,” reads another.

“I knew Baad was wrong and unjust,” says Khanwali Adil. 

“Eighteen months ago I launched a hunger strike for five days in protest,” he continued. 

“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.”

Adil says his protest comes from seeing the cruelty of Baad first hand.

He hails from rural Paktia province and two of his sisters — one only aged 12 — was given away to resolve a dispute. And his family received a girl in a similar incident through Baad too.

“What happened in my family pushed me to fight against Baad,” Adil told me. 

“That started about six years ago and I have not seen my family for five years.”

Adil continued, “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.”

Since coming to Kabul, Adil has received the support of civil society activists who have offered to help his campaign.

Activist Nasrullah Safa has worked closely and supported Adil over recent months.

“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.”

“We fully support him, he is protesting to defend women in the right way,” believes Safa.

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 the weak and vulnerable – women. 

After Adil began his protest, other civil society organisations declared their support as well. 

Tofan Mangal is one of the activists involved. 

Tofan tells me there are many traditions in the country that are not Islamic or humanitarian. 

Adil’s fight, he says, is a fight for all Afghans.

And so far, Adil’s protest has reaped some results.

First my family returned the girl to her family who they received as Baad ten years ago. In Paktia province that was the first time that had happened,” he explained. 

“Secondly the Afghan Ulamas council for the first time declared Baad non-Islamic.” 

“Third,” continued Adil, “my protest is an achievement for all people in this country now. Women and men can follow my way and stand up against Baad.”

Zeba Haidry, from the Afghan human rights commission says there is growing awareness around Baad. And a growing momentum against it.

“Compared to the first six months of last year the numbers of Baad weddings decreased this year,” she said. 

“The main reason is more public awareness and the declaration from the ulamas. Before the ulama were silent, but after Adil’s protest they also declared Baad a crime,” Haidry explained. 

In Baad, the bride is often in her early teens or even younger, and is wedded to a 50 or 60-year-old man from the victim's family. 

There is no official on the number of Baad cases, but there are still people in the country, especially in the remote areas that support it. 

Those like 20-year-old university student Ahmad Shekeb, who has moved to Kabul to finish his studies. 

“I know that crime is a personal case, and I hope my sister or daughter never have to pay its cost, 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,” said Shekeb.

To Khanwali Adil though, girls forced into Baad never live as somebody's wife – they live like a slave to the whole family, and are treated like animals.

Adil has vowed to continue his protest until he sees the end of the tradition.

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