Afghan teen murder spotlights growing violence against women

Pressing her cheek against the fresh grave of her newly married teenage
daughter, Sabera yowls as she gently smears clumps of dirt over her tear-stained
face.

"My daughter! Why did they kill you so brutally?" the mother
screams in the sparsely filled cemetery in Parwan province, 65 km (40 miles)
north of the Afghan capital, Kabul.






Sabera says her
daughter Tamana was killed by a relative in a so-called "honor killing", in what
officials link to a wider trend of rapidly growing violence against women in
Afghanistan.

Afghanistan's independent human rights commission has
recorded 52 murders of girls and women in the last four months, 42 of which were
honor killings, compared to 20 murders for all of last year.

Activists
and some lawmakers accuse President Hamid Karzai's government of selling out to
the ultra-conservative Taliban, with whom it seeks peace talks, as most foreign
troops prepare to leave the country by the end of 2014.

During their
1996-2001 reign, the Taliban banned women from education, voting and most work,
and they were not allowed to leave their homes without permission and a male
escort, rights which have been painstakingly won back.

But there are
signs the government is backsliding on women's rights. Earlier this year, Karzai
appeared to back recommendations from powerful clerics that stated women are
worth less than men and can be beaten.

"Karzai has certainly changed, and
women's issues are no longer a priority for him," said outspoken female lawmaker
Fawzia Koofi.

Last week, Hanifa Safi, head of women's affairs in eastern
Laghman province, became the first female official to be killed this year when a
bomb planted on her car exploded.

A spokesman for Karzai said the
government is committed to women's rights. "Unfortunate incidents against women
do occur. The government is doing what it can," said Siamak
Herawi.

FORCED MARRIAGE

Fifteen-year-old Tamana died not far from
where a young woman was publicly executed for alleged adultery last month,
touching off an international outcry.

Tamana's parents say she never
returned from a trip to the local bakery in March, located near their home in
Parwan's capital Charikar.

The next time they saw her was one week ago,
lying dead on a hospital bed. A video filmed on their mobile phone last Monday
at her funeral shows the teenager's bruised face swathed in white
sheets.

"My daughter always said she wouldn't stop studying, and would
one day become important, having to travel to work in a convoy of cars," Sabera
told Reuters in her spartan living room, where flies buzzed over ruby red
carpets.

"But now she is under a tonne of clay," she said, prompting her
husband, retired intelligence official Abdul Fatah, to wipe a tear from his
wrinkled eyes.

Tamana was forcibly married to her cousin after refusing
his advances for months, they say, adding she was beaten and killed for being a
"disobedient" wife, unable to hide unhappiness at her plight.

Reuters
could not independently verify the family's claims, but police in Charikar said
they believe Tamana was intentionally poisoned, although cannot say with
certainty until the results of the autopsy come later this month.

No one
has been arrested over Tamana's killing, but the alleged killer's sister was
given as a bride to Tamana's brother as compensation, abiding by the brutal
Afghan practice 'baad', which is widespread despite Karzai criminalizing it in
2009.

She is one of eight women killed in Parwan since March including
two in Bagram, home to a major U.S. base, who were shot to death.