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|April 16-22, 2009
• See Letters page
• Jim Hightower
In Afghanistan, a ‘baad’ practice
by Wahida Paykan
At age 2, Nilab has no idea that her family has just given her away as compensation in a dispute with another family.
And rather than being outraged, most here would applaud the transaction as a peaceful way of settling what could have become a bloody conflict.
The practice is called baad, which usually means settling disagreements between families by the guilty party compensating the perceived victim with a young female child.
“My uncle, Jawad, was accused of having unlawful sexual relations with a neighbor’s married daughter,” said Mariam, Nilab’s 19-year-old sister.
“The families agreed to allow the local council to settle the matter,” she said. Having convicted Jawad of the charges, “The council decided that Nilab should be given to the victim’s brother-in-law, who is only 6 years old. Everyone agreed.”
“Without baad, we would have conflict between the families, with murder and revenge,” said Nadira, a member of the victim’s family. “Baad is a good thing. Killing and enmity are prohibited in Islam.”
In some ways, Nilab is lucky; she will be allowed to remain with her own family until she’s 13. In stricter communities, she could have been taken immediately.
Baad is an ancient tradition in Afghanistan, dating back to the days when no central legal authority existed, and conflicts were settled through the tribal system.
When a man is accused of murder, rape or having sexual relations with someone other than his wife, a local council can step in to mediate. Lesser offenses can usually be settled by the exchange of money, a few sheep or a cow. But the standard penalty for a serious crime is for the offender’s family to give a girl to the victim’s family.
Often the girl given in baad is little more than a slave; she can be beaten or mistreated or even killed. Much domestic violence in Afghanistan can be traced back to the tradition of baad, according to human-rights activists.
“Baad is a negative tradition with no legal or moral basis,” said Sayeed Mohammad Sami, head of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission. “A human life can never be traded away. It will take a long time and much hard work to get rid of this terrible practice.”
Baad is illegal, said Mah Gul Yamam, a legal expert at the Afghan Human Rights Organization.
“According to the laws of Afghanistan, a perpetrator bears personal responsibility for his crimes,” said Mash Gul Yamam, a legal expert at the Afghan Human Rights Organization. “This responsibility cannot be transferred to others. But unfortunately, in Afghanistan, when a man commits a crime, it is the females that have to bear the punishment.”
Those found guilty of participating in baad can be sentenced for up to two years in jail. But complaints are rarely filed, even from the girls and women who have been given away by their families.
Many argue that, given the current condition of the Afghan legal system, it’s no surprise that many villagers choose their own brand of justice.
Afghanistan’s legal system is plagued with corruption and inefficiency, and is in no condition to dispense justice despite the efforts of the international community, which has poured millions of dollars into judicial reform over the past seven years.
Tribal or jirga justice is swift and almost universally accepted — but it has the disadvantage of perpetuating the society’s longstanding discrimination against women.
Wahida Paykan is a reporter in Afghanistan who writes for The Institute for War & Peace Reporting, a nonprofit organization that trains journalists in areas of conflict.
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