CHARIKAR, Afghanistan (Reuters) – 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.
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.