A five-year-old child in the Afghan city of Herat died this week after being the victim of a gang rape, from which he sustained fatal injuries. The incident has triggered another wave of outrage in the nation, which has struggled for centuries against cultural norms promoting rape.
According to the Afghanistan Times, the boy, who was not named by police, was raped by two other boys in succession. The two boys, neighbors of the victim, raped the five-year-old repeatedly until they became aware that the boy’s life was in danger. According to Herat Police spokesman Abdul Rauf Ahmadi, “When the accusers came to know that [the] life of the child was in danger after [the] sexual assault then the two assaulters tried to shift the victim to [the] hospital. However, he lost his life on the way as result of serious injuries.”
The boys have been arrested following the incident, though given the nature of rape law in Afghanistan, convicting rapists is a difficult matter. The Afghanistan Times notes, for example, that doctors are already claiming the rape was not the cause of death. One doctor, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the boy appeared to have been choked in addition to being raped: “Therefore, we are sure that the boy did not die because of injuries but of choking.”
Spanish newspaper ABC reports that the family of the victim will face an uphill battle in court. When child rape victims live, they are often exposed to the possibility of being considered criminals for engaging in sexual activity before wedlock. Children, they note, who are victims of such are also often treated as immoral for their involuntary participation in the rape.
A similar incident in 2013, in which a group rape resulted in the death of a 12-year-old boy, led to protests of up to 300 Afghans demanding justice for the boy–a turning point in cultural reactions to rape.
In addition to the legal situation surrounding child rape, much of Afghan culture is plagued by the persistence of the rape of children. One institution that persists in this realm is the practice of “bacha baazi,” in which older men take on pre-pubescent male lovers. The U.S. State Department called this practice a “widespread, culturally sanctioned form of male rape.” Girls are not excluded from rape practices, either, however, and rape continues to occur as families remain silent to prevent the shame that comes with being forced into sexual activity from publicly consuming the family.