As reported by Emily Douglas at RHReality Check, a 14-year old rape victim in Afghanistan is in critical condition after an unsafe abortion was performed on her. The abortion was performed at about 5 months gestation by the girl’s brother Ali. He cut open his sister’s abdomen using a razor blade and performed the impromptu surgery. Afterwards, the wound became seriously infected. After doctors found out when the girl was taken to aid, Ali was arrested and jailed, as is his and the girl’s mother.
Even though she (the girl) was brutally raped, Ali and the mother violated the girl’s fundamental right to bodily autonomy during the unsafe abortion:
[Gulam Mohammad] Nader [one of the girl’s doctors] said the girl told him that she had not known her mother and brother’s plan when they took her into the cattle shed. She said the two of them wrestled her to the ground and held her down while they cut her stomach open. She blacked out for much of the ordeal, but she said she remembered seeing her brother hold up the fetus.
Even though the girl probably had every desire to conceal the rape (see below), this goes too far. Even if it benefited her, leading someone into a cattle shed, forcing her to the ground and cutting her open without anesthesia, all while not telling her what you are going to do and without her consent, is unacceptable. The girl’s right to bodily autonomy was violated twice, first by the rapist (who is in custody) and secondly by Ali and the mother.
This passage is disturbing:
Families in the deeply conservative country — where there are strong taboos against sex outside of marriage — often got to extreme lengths to conceal rape, which can destroy a victim’s reputation and future. Girls who are raped have little chance of ever getting married and married women are often shunned by their husbands. The victim and her family are tainted with the shame of the act and the woman is often accused of having consented to the sex.
“I told my sister that this was bad for us, for our family, and bad for the community,” Ali told the A[ssociated]P[ress].
There are problems with this situation. First, the accusation that the victim consented to the act. I suspect that this is based on the belief that unless a victim screams loud when being raped, she is consenting. This is a false dichotomy because it is ignorant of the likely possibility that she might be too scared to scream out of fear for her life. Second is the value placed on being a virgin before marriage. This leads to victim blaming. Third, the sentences about marriage imply that the only way for women to get ahead is through marriage. Fourth, and not described in the quoted paragraph, is the fact that abortion is illegal in Afghanistan, except when the woman’s life is threatened. Even then, a panel of three doctors must allow the operation to go ahead.
These problems should be solved. The first can be done be educating people about the possibility I raised, as well as working to improve societal views of women. The second can be done by education. Contraceptive distribution will also help, as it reduces population growth and allows women to control their fertility. Emergency contraception would help prevent pregnancy due to rape. (As most EC is hormonal, cost will be an issue in Afghanistan). Contraception will also solve the third problem, as it would allow women to delay childbearing and not be forced into poverty to raise children. Improving education and business opportunities for women will also help. The fourth problem can be solved by liberalizing abortion restrictions. Making it easy to get an abortion will prevent maternal mortality and also reduce the unjust shaming of rape victims by making it easier for them to hide their pregnancy. It is even better to take actions that reduce rape, such as making it clear to men that a woman must consent. And finally, these must be done from the bottom-up; doing it from the top down will likely backfire once some nationalist gets the idea to claim it is due to foreign influence invading the culture of Afghanistan.