An Afghan woman, 21 year-old Gulnaz, was sentenced to twelve years in prison for adultery because she was raped by a man who was married to her cousin. In Afghanistan, a rape victim can be charged with and convicted of adultery if the rapist is married at the time of the attack.
The rape took place two years ago, and Gulnaz conceived a child as a result of the attack. The authorities are allowing Gulnaz to raise her young daughter in prison. Gulnaz has agreed to marry her attacker in order to legitimize her daughter and be released from prison early.
In addition to adultery, Gulnaz is also serving time for “failing to report the rape in a timely manner,” which carries a separate penalty that requires additional jail time under the Afghan criminal code.
Gulnaz had few options after she discovered that she was impregnated by her attacker. Michele Goodwin of The Chronicle explains, “Had Gulnaz remained silent, she might have brought dishonor on her family for an out-of-wedlock pregnancy. That could have resulted in murder—an illegal, but nonetheless customary practice in dealing with women who “dishonor” their families.”
A spokesman for the Afghan Attorney General, Rahmatullah Naziri, told CNN that Gulnaz’s sentence was reduced to three years, leaving one year left for her to serve before she will be released and allowed to marry her attacker.
The barbaric nature of Gulnaz’s options after her rape and pregnancy have not been lost on the international community. Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai received a petition on Sunday calling for the immediate release of Gulnaz. Nearly 5,000 people had signed the petition in just 48 hours, yet Karzai has not acknowledged the petition.
The U.S. State Department acknowledged Gulnaz’s awful predicament, and made a statement last Thursday:
“Gulnaz’s situation is one no woman should have to face. Our heartfelt condolences go out to Gulnaz and her young daughter. The Law for the Elimination of Violence Against Women was a major advancement for the rights of women in Afghanistan; but without full training and implementation, situations such as this one will continue to occur. We expect Afghan prosecutors to properly apply the law while also upholding Gulnaz’s rights.”
The effectiveness of The Law for the Elimination of Violence Against Women in the face of such a blatant and violent attack on an Afghan woman remains to be seen.