Fawzia is 17 years old and has been hiding out in a shack in Kabul for almost a month. The future for this teenager, who uses a pseudonym, dimmed in late 2022 when the Taliban banned Afghan women from attending universities. In a video call from Kabul, the first-year medical student told EL PAÍS how on December 20 she was summoned to a classroom for a surprise exam. She realized it was a ruse when she saw that only people there were young women... and the Taliban. After informing the students that they could no longer continue their studies, the fundamentalists “began to select the students they liked, including me, and told us that we had to marry them.” Fawzia managed to escape and return home, but hours later, the Taliban broke into the house and demanded that her parents give up their daughter.
Fawzia believes that the Taliban obtained her home address from university records. She says other students in the class also fled, and some were now missing. Khadija Amin, an Afghan journalist living in exile in Spain who joined the video call, confirmed that “the Taliban use the personal information in university enrollment records to locate these young women.” Amin has reported on other Afghan women who had similar experiences.
“The Taliban handed out forms to Afghan families requiring them to disclose the names and ages of all their daughters, but the university records provided them with all the information they needed,” said Amin, a well-known Afghan TV anchor before she fled the country in 2021. She had to leave her three children behind when her ex-husband refused to let her take them.
The first time the Taliban tried to take Fawzia, they failed. Her father intervened and was beaten severely for protecting his daughter. Fawzia’s leg was injured in the fight. When her father saw them returning a few days later, he rushed Fawzia out of the house and hid her. The Taliban interrogated Fawzia’s father, who refused to reveal his daughter’s whereabouts. They hauled him off and a week later, dumped his broken, comatose body at the back gate. “Like an animal,” said Fawzia.
She sent EL PAÍS a photo of her father, a 37-year-old teacher, lying on a hospital bed and connected to a ventilator that delivers oxygen through a tracheostomy tube. His upper chest and sternum appear to be caved in and his skull is bandaged. Doctors have told the family that he is not expected to survive. Fawzia’s mother was also beaten by the Taliban and lost the baby she was carrying.
Fawzia’s family took a video of when the Taliban came. It shows rough-looking men standing in front of the house next to a white SUV. Fawzia’s mother joined our video call and told us that the men in the video broke into their house and interrogated the family. Sobbing, Fawzia’s mother said that when she repeatedly told them her daughter wasn’t there, they beat her in the stomach, causing hemorrhaging that killed the fetus. Because she was so far along in her pregnancy, she had to give birth to her stillborn child. EL PAÍS saw a photo of the infant’s shrouded body lying on a red carpet, the same one that still covers one of the floors in the home.
Fawzia, her mother and her three young brothers have resigned themselves to fleeing the country and leaving their father behind. But it will be very difficult. The Taliban have the area surrounded, and even if they manage to sneak past, the family will need a man to accompany them on the journey. Not just any man – it must be a mahram – a family member with whom marriage would be considered unlawful. And Fawzia’s mother is still not well enough to travel.
Escaping the Taliban
Fawzia’s only option is escape – from the Taliban and also from the cold. Her hideout is not completely sheltered and it’s snowing in Kabul. Temperatures have dropped far below freezing in the last few days. She is having thoughts of suicide, and blames herself for what happened to her father and unborn brother. With many of the mannerisms of a young girl, the teenager pleads for someone to help her family.
In August, a young girl who identified herself as Elaha Dilwaziri said in several videos posted on Twitter that she had been raped and forced to marry Qari Saeed Khosty, a former spokesperson for the Ministry of Interior in the Taliban government. The ministry is headed by Sirajuddin Haqqani, the leader of the Haqqani network, a Taliban faction that often operates independently and has been designated a terrorist organization by the United States.
A few weeks after the Taliban seized power again on August 15, 2021, they circulated a directive ordering women over the age of 20 and widows under the age of 35 to marry Taliban soldiers in order to “strengthen Islamic morality.” The directive encouraged Afghan men to marry female students over the age of 18 “before the universities and schools start classes” in order to maintain Islamic propriety.
According to Khadija Amin, the Taliban aren’t just pursuing women over 18. “They force girls as young as 15, 14, and even 12 years old to marry them,” she said. Girls are prohibited from attending school after the age of 12. Shortly after taking over, the fundamentalists closed secondary schools for girls, almost a year before they banned female students from attending universities. Just four days after the university ban, women were barred from working for non-governmental organizations (NGOs).
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