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Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Saudis keep lid on rape scandals

Posted: 02/20/2013 1:00 AM | Comments: 0

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'(The child was) admitted into a hospital on the Dec. 25, 2011, with multiple injuries, including a crushed skull, broken ribs and left arm, extensive bruising and burns. One of her fingernails had been torn off. The child's mother reported that the hospital staff told her the child's rectum had been torn open and the abuser had attempted to burn it closed. Randa Al Kaleeb, a social worker from the hospital, said in a phone interview that Lama's back was broken as well and that she had been raped everywhere'

-- from from a press release by Saudi activist Manal al Sharif.

VANCOUVER -- It is difficult to imagine any person enduring this kind of torture, let alone a small child. But that is what happened to a five-year-old girl in Saudi Arabia, at the hands of her father, "sheikh" Fayhan Al Ghamdi.

She eventually died as a result of her injuries. Meanwhile, her father spent four months in jail, before paying 200,000 riyals (about $50,000) as a "blood money" fine. As the BBC recently reported about this long-repressed story, "the amount is half what would have been necessary if Lama had been male."

The fate of Lama speaks volumes about a justice system that is not so much broken, as simply non-existent if you happen to have had the terrible luck of being born into the kingdom as a female.

Lama's mother had been divorced by Al Ghamdi, who took custody of Lama. In Saudi Arabia, child custody is decided in Sharia courts, where the foremost criteria are not the physical and emotional welfare of the child, but for the child to be brought up inside a strict Islamic household.

Though the brand of Sharia practised in the Saudi kingdom normally dictates mothers have the luxury of raising their daughters until a girl reaches the age of seven, Lama's mother was denied any access to Lama, despite her young age. And despite suspicions that something was wrong, she only saw her daughter again after the girl was hospitalized, and dying.

The monstrous human being who so brutalized his own daughter was in fact a white-robed preacher, "a frequent guest speaker on Islamist channels." He was an individual well-regarded enough to have been invited to publicly share his wisdom and advice with pious Saudis.

But it wasn't his reputation as a good Islamist that allowed him to duck any serious prison time, but simply that he was a male who had murdered a female. The lives of women come cheap in Saudi Arabia, where under the male guardianship system murdering your wife is more akin to mistreating cattle -- since women are quite literally the property of men.

Citing all the litany of injustices Lama experienced in her short life is a daunting task. But it began well before she was born, when her mother was handed over to a man who would never have to earn the affections and respect of a woman, but would only have to come up with the cash to pay her father.

And truly, it began well before that, when the puritanical rulers of the House of Saud decided to give the atrocious tribal traditions prevalent in the kingdom the weight of law by making them the basis of the country's law and governance, pronouncing them divinely inspired. Other than a smattering of meager token reforms, the sustained result has been institutionalized, systematic misogyny. A five-year-old girl tortured and raped to death is no exception within this system; it is, rather, its natural outcome.

Many people reading this will have never heard of Lama before. And that is no coincidence. When a 23-year-old student in Delhi was raped to death last December, Indians, and then people around the world, erupted in anger. Their protests, vigils, and demands for reform were aired in national and international media, triggering a desperately needed national discussion of the rape epidemic plaguing India.

But the absence of democracy and free speech in Saudi Arabia means no such thing happened for Lama, who died in October 2012, two months before the Indian gang-rape victim did.

Saudi women's-rights activist Manal al-Sharif has struggled to raise attention to the case, through a campaign that has yet to gather much traction. While there has been some public outcry over the case, the Saudi state is structured in such a way as to be mostly immune to dissent from within.

Lauryn Oates is a Canadian aid worker managing education projects in Afghanistan.

She is projects director at Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan.

-- Troy Media

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 20, 2013 $sourceSection0

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