Skip to main content

Afghan wife maimed for refusing drug-addict husband's cash demands

By Anna Coren, CNN
April 10, 2014 -- Updated 1623 GMT (0023 HKT)
  • 23-year-old Sitara was sleeping when her husband attacked her, asking for money
  • He was looking for money to fuel his long-term drug habit
  • Husband threatened to sell their young daughters as child brides to make money
  • Sitara's wounds were so severe she was flown to Turkey for treatment

Herat, Afghanistan (CNN) -- As we stroll down a dusty back street in Herat, Afghanistan's third-biggest city, a high gate made from sheets of rusted corrugated iron and a door that's bolted shut confronts us.

On the other side of this fortress-like barrier we can hear children's voices and playful laughter.

When we knock the voices fall silent and a young man comes to the gate. He asks for our names and the purpose of our visit. Satisfied with the answer, the door is unbolted and we're allowed inside.

Behind the high wall, four little girls -- the youngest a smiling two-year old with food on her face -- greet us in a concrete-covered courtyard. Garbage is piled up in one corner, while a broken down motorcycle leans against a brick wall.

While this scene may appear perfectly normal, their mother's story is anything but.

U.S. lawyer helps save child bride
Married at six years old
Afghans vote for future despite threats

We're led up stairs to a room with carpets and cushions on the floor -- this is where the family eats and sleeps. As the afternoon light streams through the window, Sitara appears. She tries to cover her face with her long beige scarf, but her beautiful brown eyes are visible. So too are the jagged scars -- shocking confirmation of the horrific attack she suffered four months earlier.

In December last year, 23-year-old Sitara was asleep on the floor with her daughters when her husband woke her. He needed money for a fix of heroin and crystal meth -- an addiction he'd developed over the course of their marriage. When she was married off to him as a child bride at the age of seven, his drug of choice was hashish. But now this man -- 20 years her senior -- was a full-blown addict.


He wanted to divorce Sitara so he could take their daughters and marry them off for a few thousand dollars for each girl's virginity. But Sitara refused -- this protective mother adamant her children were not going to suffer the same fate as her. She'd reached her limit with his destructive drug use and the monster he'd turned into.

But she didn't realize just how much of a monster he'd become.

That night he demanded money and a simple ring she was wearing -- the only jewelry she possessed. When Sitara said no, he bashed in her head until part of her brain was protruding from her skull. She was almost unconscious. He then pinned her down, got a knife and cut off her nose and upper lip.

"My head was throbbing and he was on top of me, that's when I saw the knife," she recalls. I struggled but then blacked out. When I woke up, I tried to touch my nose and lips but I felt nothing."

Sitara's girls were asleep except for 10-year-old Somia. I ask her what happened, but her elder sister, Parisa, steps in and explains. "We were all asleep except for my sister Somia. I asked her why didn't she wake me up? She told me our father threatened her that if she screamed, he would cut her just like our mother.

"My father then tripped over me as he was pulling my mother by the hair. I woke up and started screaming at him. Then he ran away and we never saw him again."

Mutilated and unconscious

Neighbors who heard the screaming alerted police who found Sitara mutilated, unconscious and lying in a pool of her own blood. She was taken to hospital where doctors managed to stop the bleeding and stabilize her. However, she'd been disfigured so badly in the attack that Afghan authorities decided to fly her to Turkey for more specialized medical care.

When my children saw me after my face changed, they didn't believe I was their mother.

That's where surgeons used part of Sitara's forehead to construct a new nose, while taking tissue from her thigh to rebuild her upper lip. "When I finally woke up and saw my face, I hated it. I hate it every day. It would be better to be injected with poison and die - that's how I feel," she says.

"When my children saw me after my face changed, they didn't believe I was their mother."

The Ministry of Women's Affairs in Afghanistan eventually relocated Sitara and her daughters to their current home -- an apartment they share with her mother and three brothers. It's cramped and basic, and they have few belongings, but they feel safe.

Police have not caught Sitara's husband -- she believes he's fled into the mountains or crossed the border into Iran.

Women for Afghan Women, an organization that supports victimized women, is hoping to send Sitara to the United States for reconstructive surgery but are yet to find a surgeon.

"I just want the surgery to happen soon. I don't want to stay like this," Sitara says. "Will I have the same face as before? Some people tell me I will have a better face. But it's hard to believe that."

Daughter's hope

Sitara's little girls now seem oblivious to her deformities. They love their mother regardless of what she looks like -- though Somia, who witnessed the appalling attack and suffers nightmares most nights, says her mother is sad all the time.

"We just want our mother to get well and smile again. If she works we can go to school and I will become a doctor. Then I can help people like my mother."

According to a United Nations report published in December last year, Afghan authorities registered an increased number of reported acts of violence against women and girls in 2013 but prosecutions and convictions remain low. The report said the authorities showed a tendency towards mediation rather than applying criminal sanctions and legal protections for women, and this often fails to protect women from further violence.

READ: Married off to pay father's debt

READ: Women could make the difference as Afghanistan turns out to vote

Part of complete coverage on
June 14, 2014 -- Updated 1732 GMT (0132 HKT)
Afghans have finished casting their ballots to pick a president in a runoff election between former Cabinet ministers.
June 9, 2014 -- Updated 1251 GMT (2051 HKT)
Singer and ex-judge on The Voice of Afghanistan advocates women's rights -- despite death threats for not wearing a headscarf.
June 11, 2014 -- Updated 2131 GMT (0531 HKT)
The improvement in the quality of life for Afghan women is unmistakable, say a bipartisan coalition of women in Congress.
May 29, 2014 -- Updated 1033 GMT (1833 HKT)
President Barack Obama outlined a foreign policy vision of "might doing right."
April 9, 2014 -- Updated 0558 GMT (1358 HKT)
She was to be married off to pay for her father's debt -- here's her story.
April 7, 2014 -- Updated 1923 GMT (0323 HKT)
One music producer hopes to get out Afghanistan's youth vote with a song competition. CNN's Sherisse Pham reports.
April 7, 2014 -- Updated 1211 GMT (2011 HKT)
Despite threats from the Taliban, Afghans turned out in large numbers to cast their vote for a new president and future.
April 9, 2014 -- Updated 0527 GMT (1327 HKT)
It was not too long ago -- in 2001, prior to the U.S. invasion -- that Afghanistan's women were all but entirely marginalized.
April 7, 2014 -- Updated 0023 GMT (0823 HKT)
As Afghan voters prepare to go to the polls in a hugely important election, CNN looks at the main presidential candidates.
April 2, 2014 -- Updated 1237 GMT (2037 HKT)
Despite the looming Taliban presence, Afghanistan could see its first democratic transfer of power, Peter Bergen writes.
April 4, 2014 -- Updated 0603 GMT (1403 HKT)
As the U.S. prepares to withdraw troops, an Afghan Army commander says America's support remains critical.
May 24, 2013 -- Updated 0924 GMT (1724 HKT)
With U.S. Special Forces in Afghanistan, CNN's Anna Coren reports on a Taliban firefight lasting more than 90 minutes.
April 1, 2013 -- Updated 1454 GMT (2254 HKT)
Mallika Kapur has the story of a young Afghan graffiti artist who, despite Taliban threats, pushes for free expression.
February 11, 2013 -- Updated 1235 GMT (2035 HKT)
Author William Dalrymple's new book "Return of a King" looks at the history of foreign-led wars in Afghanistan.'s 'Home and Away' initiative honors the lives of U.S. and coalition troops who have died in Iraq and Afghanistan.