Child Bride

Tuesday 21 March, 2006

Posted by Kevin Sites on Mon, Mar 20 2006 (http://hotzone.yahoo.com/b/hotzone/20060320/hz_afghanistan_0306/blogs2986)

Married at the age of four, an Afghan girl was subjected to years of beatings and torture, finally escaping to discover that within all the world’s cruelty, there is also some kindness.

KABUL, Afghanistan – Eleven-year old Gulsoma lay in a heap on the ground in front of her father-in-law. He told her that if she didn’t find a missing watch by the next morning he would kill her. He almost had already.

Enraged about the missing watch, Gulsoma’s father-in-law had beaten her repeatedly with a stick. She was bleeding from wounds all over her body and her right arm and right foot had been broken.

She knew at that moment that if she didn’t get away, he would make good on his promise to kill her.

* * *When I meet her at the Ministry of Women’s Affairs I’m surprised that the little girl, now 12, is the same one that had endured such horrible suffering. She is wearing a red baseball cap and an orange scarf. She has beautiful brown eyes and a full and animated smile. She takes one of my hands in both of hers and greets me warmly, without any hint of shyness.

“She looks healthy,” says Haroon, my friend and translator. I nod. But she looks older than her years, we both agree. In orphanages — first in Kandahar, then in Kabul — she has had a year to recover from a lifetime’s worth of unimaginable imprisonment, deprivation and torture.

In one of the ministry’s offices she sits in a straight-backed wooden chair and tells us the story of her life so far. She is stoic for the most part, pausing only a few times to wipe her eyes and nose with her scarf.

Her story begins in the village of Mullah Allam Akhound, near Kandahar.

“When I was three years old my father died, and after a year my mother married again, but her second husband didn’t want me,” says Gulsoma. “So my mother gave me away in a promise of marriage to our neighbor’s oldest son, who was thirty.”

“They had a ceremony in which I was placed on a horse [which is traditional in Afghanistan] and given to the man.”

Because she was still a child, the marriage was not expected to be sexually consummated. But within a year, Gulsoma learned that so much else would be required of her that she would become a virtual slave in the household.

At the age of five, she was forced to take care of not only her “husband” but also his parents and all 12 of their other children as well.

Though nearly the entire family participated in the abuse, her father-in-law, she says, was the cruelest.

“My father-in-law asked me to do everything — laundry, the household chores — and the only time I was able to sleep in the house was when they had guests over,” she says. “Other than that I would have to sleep outside on a piece of carpet without even any blankets. In the summer it was okay. But in the winter a neighbor would come over and give me a blanket, and sometimes some food.”

When she couldn’t keep up with the workload, Gulsoma says, she was beaten constantly.


Gulsoma’s scars

“They beat me with electric wires,” she says, “mostly on the legs. My father-in-law told his other children to do it that way so the injuries would be hidden. He said to them, ‘break her bones, but don’t hit her on the face.'”

There were even times when the family’s abuse of Gulsoma transcended the bounds of the most wanton, sadistic cruelty, as on the occasions when they used her as a human tabletop, forcing her to lie on her stomach then cutting their food on her bare back.

Gulsoma says the family had one boy her age, named Atiqullah, who refused to take part in her torture.

“He would sneak me food sometimes and when my mother-in-law told him to find a stick to beat me, he would come back say he couldn’t find one,” she says. “He would try to stop the others sometimes. He would say ‘she is my sister, and this is sinful.’ Sometimes I think about him and wish he could be here and I wish I could have him as my brother.”

One evening, Gulsoma says, when her father-in-law saw the neighbor giving her food and a blanket, he took them away and beat her mercilessly. Then, she says, he locked her in a shed for two months.

“I would be kept there all day,” she says, “then at night they would let me go the bathroom and I would be fed one time each day. Most of the time it was only bread and sometimes some beans.”

She says every day she was locked in the shed, she wished and prayed that her parents would come and take her away. Then she would remember that her father was dead and her mother was gone.

But Gulsoma had an inner strength even her father-in-law couldn’t comprehend.

“When he came to the shed he kept asking me, ‘Why don’t you die? I imprisoned you, I give you less food, but still you don’t die.'”

But it wasn’t for lack of trying. Gulsoma said when her father-in-law finally let her out of the shed, he bound her hands behind her back and beat her unconscious. She says he revived her by pouring a tea thermos filling with scalding water over her head and her back.

“It was so painful,” she says, dabbing her eyes with her scarf and sniffling for a moment. “I was crying and screaming the entire time.”

Five days later, she says, her father in law gave her a vicious beating when his daughter’s wristwatch went missing.

“He thought I stole it,” she says, “and he beat me all over my body with his stick. He broke my arm and my foot. He said if I didn’t find it by the next day, he would kill me.”

* * *


Gulsoma found hope after escaping

She crawled away that night and hid under a rickshaw. When the rickshaw driver found Gulsoma, broken and bleeding, he listened to her story and took her to the police. She was hospitalized immediately.

“The doctor at the hospital who treated me said, ‘I wish I could take you to the village square and show all the people what happened to you, so no one would ever do something like this again,'” Gulsoma says.

It took her a full month to recover from her last beating. But the fear and psychological trauma may never go away.

“I was happy to have a bed and food at the hospital,” she says. “But I was thinking that when I get better they will give me back to the family.”

However, Gulsoma says when the police questioned the family, the father-in-law lied and tried to tell them she had epilepsy and had fallen down and hurt herself. But the neighbor who had helped Gulsoma confirmed the story of her beatings and torture.

The police arrested her father-in-law and “husband.” They told her, she says, they would keep them in jail unless she asked for their release.

“Everyone was crying when they heard my story,” Gulsoma says.

Gulsoma says she stayed at an orphanage in Kandahar, but was the only girl in the facility. Eventually, her story was brought to the attention of the Ministry of Women’s Affairs.


The toll of torture

Gulsoma was then brought to a Kabul orphanage, where she lives today. She takes off her baseball cap and shows us a bald spot, almost like a medieval monk’s tonsure, on the crown of her head where she was scalded.

She then turns her back and raises her shirt to reveal a sad map of scar tissue and keloids from cuts, bruises and the boiling water.

Haroon and I look at each other with disbelief. Her life’s tragic story is etched upon her back.

Yet she continues to smile. She doesn’t ask for pity. She seems more concerned about us as she reads the shock on our faces.

“I feel better now,” she says. “I have friends at the orphanage. But every night I’m still afraid the family will come here and pick me up.”

Gulsoma also says that when the sun goes down, she sometimes begins to shiver involuntarily — a reaction to the seven years of sleeping outdoors, sometimes in the bitter cold of the desert night.

She says she believes there are other girls like her in Kandahar, maybe elsewhere in Afghanistan, and that she wants to study human rights and one day go back to help them.

As we walk outside to take some pictures, I ask her if, after all she’s been through, she thinks it will be harder to trust, to believe that there are actually good people in the world.

“No,” she says, quickly.

“I didn’t expect anyone would help me but God. I was really surprised that there were also nice people: the neighbor, the rickshaw driver, the police,” she says. “I pray for those who helped release me.”

Looking directly into the camera, she smiles as if nothing bad had ever happened to her in her entire life.

“I think that all people are good people,” she says, “except for those that hurt me.”

SEND YOUR SUPPORT

The Kevin Sites in the Hot Zone team has set up an email account so that messages of support can be retrieved and forwarded to Gulsoma via a local organization. Click here to email your message.

Personal Comment:

I’ve included this story to my blog because of the inspiration to me of this young girl’s will to live life with a positive attitude inspite of her circumstances. I hope it will be an encouragement to others that visit my site, and maybe someone in position to do more to help her, and many more like her, will do so.

Get Up and Get Going

Wednesday 15 March, 2006

Yes YOU!

Get up and get going.

It won’t happen while you sit (or lie) there wishing, hoping and pleading that things will get better.

You have got to get up and get going.

You don’t understand.
Why do I have to go through this?
Why me?
Why now?
When is this going to end?

I know it’s tough and it may get tougher before it gets any easier. So what? You can’t change the things that are, but you can sure change what will be.

Besides, it’s not a matter of how tough things are, it’s a matter of how tough you are.

So get up and get going.

The longer you wait the worse it gets.

You get older and sitting there makes it harder to get up.
Your muscles to deal with things get flabby.
You don’t like where you are, but you’ve actually grown comfortable there so get up and get going.

Time’s a wasting and you’ve got things to do so

Get UP and Get GOING!

The Will and Grace of God

Thursday 9 March, 2006

“The Will of God will never take you where the Grace of God will not protect you”.

Ambassadors of Hope: A biker’s tale.

Thursday 9 March, 2006

There is nothing like an African sunset and watching the golden sunset over lake Kivu in Gisenyi, Rwanda is truly a sight to behold.

It’s Friday 29th July and I’m sitting alone on the beach in the late afternoon listening to the gentle waves breaking on the shore as I reflect on the week that was and thinking to myself, it was well worth the effort. A beautiful end to the months of stress and sleepless nights organising the 2005 Uganda Bikers Association (UBA) annual AIDS awareness ride to Rwanda.

Flashback to Saturday 23rd, the honourable Mrs. Namirembe Bitamazire, Minister of Education and Sports flagged us off in Kampala on a quest to raise awareness on protection from AIDS. Ordinarily, a group of bikers would not be considered the ideal choice for such a mission. For one thing, the public perception of bikers is such that they would be considered more likely to spread the disease, but we are no ordinary group of bikers.

Sure, our primary interest may be to ride our bikes, and did we ever have fun on the twists and turns of Rwanda, but we also realise that there is more to life than riding bikes, admittedly, not a lot, but there is something.

Since 2003, the UBA has held national and international AIDS awareness rides/campaigns. In 2004, the Ministry of Health recognised our efforts in the fight against AIDS, christening the UBA, the Ambassadors of Hope.

The ride to Rwanda included awareness campaigns in Masaka, Mbarara, Kabale, Kigali, Gitarama, Butare, Gikongoro, Ruhengeri and Gisenyi, covering some 1,700km. At each stop, we were warmly welcomed by enthusiastic crowd that also lined the road in several places, attracted by the roar of the bikes, which ranged in engine capacity from 400cc to 1200cc.

The team consisted of an even blend of Ugandan and resident foreign nationals including Bernie Runnebaum (Club Chair), Patrick Bahemuka (Club V.Chair), Milton Aineruhanga (Club Sec.), Peet Coetzee (Club Fin.). Other members participating were, Wayne Slack, Franco Masetto, Pietro Averono, Ben Bamulumbye, James Akena, Joseph Ssenyonga, and Patrice Basha with Okia Eremegio driving the support vehicle and James Opoka for media coverage.

The ravages of the disease are plain to see compounded by the lack of knowledge. For instance, a lady was reluctant to use condoms for fear that she may get cancer. Other questions raised included the effect of drinking alcohol on the disease, appropriate nutrition when taking ARV medication and the continued resistance of the Catholic Church to condom use.

As the sun continues to set, it is had to describe the adrenaline rush from 5 days on the twisted roads of Kabale and Rwanda, but as our mission comes to an end, my thoughts are on what we have achieved. We have spoken to thousands of people and distributed almost 9,000 condoms. Even if we have saved only one person’s life, it will be well worth it, in addition to raising school fees for AIDS orphans sponsored by the UBA at the Mbuya Parish Reach-Out project, with the generous support of organisations such as; Heritage Oil, Spedag, Victoria Motors and Engineering, Kobil, Ernst and Young and World Wide Movers and Standard Chartered among others.

Visit us at www.ugandabikers.com

Hello world!

Thursday 9 March, 2006

Welcome to my blog. My name is Milton from Uganda, and this is my space to share anything under the sun that may be on my mind at any point in time.

My interests are varied, as you’ll notice in time, as my blog develops.