CAIRO - A centuries-old tradition of abducting girls as payment for misdeeds committed by their elders is still flourishing in rural Afghanistan where traditional Afghan justice replaces non-trusted government's justice system.
We did not know what was happening, Shakila, who was 8 at the time she was abducted by a group of men carrying AK-47s from Fazal Nabi's family, part of the Gujar clan, told New York Times on Friday, February 17.
They put us in a dark room with stone walls; it was dirty and they kept beating us with sticks and saying, Your uncle ran away with our wife and dishonored us, and we will beat you in retaliation.'
Shakila's tragedy started when she was dragged with her cousin from their bed because one of her uncles had run away with the wife of a district strongman.
During imprisonment, both girls were kept for three months in a small dark room after which they were allowed out so that they could haul firewood from the mountains and lug pails of water from the river.
She had to keep the clothes she put on for the whole year and was allowed to wash them for the first time after six months of captivity.
They tortured us in a way that no human being would treat another, Shakila said.
Shakila's case is unusual because she managed to escape after a year of torture in captivity when she managed to slip through the gate to reach her sister's village.
She was almost finished, Gul Zareen, her father, said. She was so thin, she was like this, he said, holding up an index finger and shaking his head.
She cried all the time, and now we are trying to feed her and she is slowly getting better.
The practice of trading women is part of a traditional Afghan form of justice known as baad that dates to before Islam, when nomadic tribes traveled Afghanistan's mountains and deserts.
Even today, outside Afghanistan's few urban areas, many of these traditions have deep roots, experts on tribal justice systems said.
For the nomads, there were no police, there was no court of law, no judge to organize the affairs of humans, so they resorted to the only things they had, which were violence and killing, said Nasrine Gross, an Afghan-American sociologist who has studied the status of Afghan women.
Then when a problem doesn't get resolved, Ms. Gross said, you offer the only things you have: livestock is more precious than a girl because the livestock you can sell, so you give two rifles, one camel, five sheep and then the girls they can sell this way.
Falling Justice System
The continuing use of baad was seen as a sign of Afghans' lack of faith in the government's justice system as well as their extreme sense of insecurity.
There are two reasons people refuse the courts first, the corrupt administration, which openly demands money for every single case, and second, instability, Hajji Mohammed Nader Khan, an elder from Helmand Province who often participates in judging cases that involve baad, told New York Times.
Also, in places where there are Taliban, they won't allow people to go to courts and solve their problems.
The baad tradition was not viewed similarly between Afghan men and women.
While men regarded it as a way of preserving families and stopping blood feuds, women saw it in terms of the suffering of the young girl asked to pay for another's wrongs.
Giving baad has good and bad aspects, said Fraidoon Mohmand, a member of Parliament from Nangarhar Province, who has led a number of jirgas.
The bad aspect is that you punish an innocent human for someone else's wrongdoings, and the good aspect is that you rescue two families, two clans, from more bloodshed, death and misery.
He also said he believed that a woman given in baad suffered only briefly.
When you give a girl in baad, they are beaten maybe, maybe she will be in trouble for a year or two, but when she brings one or two babies into the world, everything will be forgotten and she will live as a normal member of the family, he said.
His views were rejected by Afghan women interviewed.
The woman given to a family in baad will always be the miserable one, said Nasima Shafiqzada, who is in charge of women's affairs for Kunar Province.
She has to work a lot. She will be beaten. She has to listen to lots of bad language from the other females in the family.
A 2006 report by Womankind Worldwide, a UK-based rights group, warned that the custom of baad is still widely practiced in the war-torn country.
The report, "Taking Stock: Afghan Women and Girls Five Years On", says millions of Afghan women and girls still face systematic discrimination and violence in their local societies and households.
It accuses Afghans of treating their wives as slave workers, asserting that abuses are widespread in the northern and western Afghanistan, where Taliban is not active.
The US has invaded Afghanistan in 2001 to topple the Taliban regime which was accused of violating women rights.
Eleven years on, Afghan officials and right activists believe that the West's strategy has proved failure in putting the country on the "path of progress" as promised.