An Afghan court has passed a landmark judgement, using DNA evidence to convict a man for the multiple rape of his daughter.
The victim who cannot be named to protect her safety, was abused for more than 10 years, bearing two children.
Violence against women is endemic in Afghanistan and victims of sexual abuse are often themselves jailed for “moral crimes”.
She was pregnant as a result of the abuse and held her four-year-old on her lap.
“This is my daughter and my father’s daughter,” she said. “She is the result of my father raping me. We are both mother and daughter and sisters at the same time.”
As sunlight streamed through the drawn curtains of the impoverished home she shares with her mother, she told me the story she had presented in court for the first time last summer.
According to the victim, the abuse began when her father returned from Iran after eight years abroad. She was 12 years old.
“I was expecting that my father will love me the way my uncles love their children because I was thirsty for a dad’s love during all the years I was deprived of him,” she says. “But when I found myself in my father’s arms it was too much.”
She recalls how he touched her intimately, making her feel uncomfortable.
“I went to my grandmother and complained but she blamed me. I was told that every father caresses his children.”
Then one night her father raped her: “I was scared badly, I was shocked and lay in the corner of the room and didn’t know what to do.”
When she became pregnant, the father moved the family to another province. The baby was born but he took it away – she never saw it again.
The abuse lasted more than 10 years, during which the daughter went through multiple pregnancies and abortions. She says that her father used a variety of drugs which she later learned were attempts at contraception.
Eventually another child was born. “When I became pregnant again, I kept the baby and didn’t abort my child,” she says: “I kept it to have proof for my claims against my father – my child was my only evidence.”
With the support of her mother, she finally managed to end the abuse. The final attack, she told me, happened in July last year, one day before Eid.
“Me and my mother had told the whole story to the mullah, neighbourhood elders and the district police and they told us to inform them if I was attacked again.”
That night the father sent his wife out of the home before assaulting his daughter again. He was arrested as the mother returned with police and elders as witnesses.
Even though he was put on trial, the daughter’s ordeal was far from over.
As the father denied all charges, claiming his daughter had extramarital relationships with other men, the victim herself was challenged in court.
“The judge questioned me, asking why I didn’t kill the baby that was in my belly?” she told me. “I answered that if I killed the child I could be accused of aborting it because the father was another person. I kept my child to prove I have a case against my father.”
The court then suspended the trial, asking for DNA samples of the accused, the victim and her daughter.
What followed was a campaign to seek justice.
The victim had taken the unusual step of appearing on Afghan television to tell her story. Women’s rights activists began organising support.
There are virtually no facilities for genetic forensic testing in Afghanistan, making foreign assistance imperative.
The woman’s supporters lobbied embassies and non-governmental organisations for help, But it still took almost a year before a DNA test could be arranged, by which time the victim had given birth to another child.
Finally a committee of officials from the attorney general’s office and the interior ministry took on the task.
“They took blood and saliva samples from the father, the woman and her children and transferred them to the US via Bagram airbase,” says Ruhulla, the victim’s lawyer. “If we didn’t have this test result, my client would have been punished based on the codes and laws of this country,” she says.
The samples were processed by the US firm “Ideal Innovations”, specialists in forensic testing who are also active in Afghanistan, providing fingerprint and biometric identification technology. They did the test for free.
When the results were finally returned they showed that the accused had indeed fathered his daughter’s children. The judge sentenced him to death.
The case is not yet closed, though. The father is appealing against the sentence, protesting his innocence.
DNA evidence is very rare in Afghan court cases, making this trial highly unusual.
The victim, meanwhile, told me that even if her abuser is executed, she remains fearful.
“I’m so worried about the future of my children,” she says “What will I tell them when they are older and ask me about their father?”