14 year old girl raped, found guilty of adultery and lashed to death

Trigger warning

CNN reports that Hena Akhter, a 14 year old girl who lived in the Shariatpur district of Bangladesh, was being harassed by her cousin Mahbub Khan, who was three times her age. Hena’s parents reported this to the village elders, who fined Khan but told Hena’s family to drop the matter. Months later, Hena’s cousin gagged and raped her. Khan’s wife found them and beat Hena. The next day the imam pronounced a fatwa: both were found guilty of adultery. Khan was sentenced to 201 lashes – he escaped shortly after the beating began.

Hena was sentenced to 101 lashes. She collapsed after 70 and died later in the hospital.

The initial autopsy pronounced her death a suicide. Following public outcry and media attention another autopsy was performed which confirmed the truth, and the doctors responsible for the first autopsy now face charges of conducting a “false post-mortem report to hide the real cause of Hena’s death.”

Sharia law and fatwas are outlawed in Bangladesh, but journalists and human rights activists say they are all too common:

The United Nations estimates that almost half of Bangladeshi women suffer from domestic violence and many also commonly endure rape, beatings, acid attacks and even death because of the country’s entrenched patriarchal system.

Darbesh Khan and Aklima Begum, Hena’s parents, are pursuing the case despite the fact this obviously puts them in danger. We can only hope this will lead to changes, but of course nothing can bring Hena back. There is no silver lining here.

Boston, MA

Jos Truitt is Executive Director of Development at Feministing. She joined the team in July 2009, became an Editor in August 2011, and Executive Director in September 2013. She writes about a range of topics including transgender issues, abortion access, and media representation. Jos first got involved with organizing when she led a walk out against the Iraq war at her high school, the Boston Arts Academy. She was introduced to the reproductive justice movement while at Hampshire College, where she organized the Civil Liberties and Public Policy Program’s annual reproductive justice conference. She has worked on the National Abortion Federation’s hotline, was a Field Organizer at Choice USA, and has volunteered as a Pro-Choice Clinic Escort. Jos has written for publications including The Guardian, Bilerico, RH Reality Check, Metro Weekly, and the Columbia Journalism Review. She has spoken and trained at numerous national conferences and college campuses about trans issues, reproductive justice, blogging, feminism, and grassroots organizing. Jos completed her MFA in Printmaking at the San Francisco Art Institute in Spring 2013. In her "spare time" she likes to bake and work on projects about mermaids.

Jos Truitt is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Development.

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Join the Conversation

  • http://feministing.com/members/azure156/ Jenny Gonzalez-Blitz

    There are too many stories I see like this, rape victims being punished under Sharia Law. How can we is the West support any grassroots movements to get these laws changed?

  • http://feministing.com/members/toongrrl/ Jessica “Jess” Victoria Carillo

    I’m hoping and praying that Darbesh Khan and Aklima Begum will be able to win their case right now. It won’t bring Hena back, but maybe no other young woman and her family will suffer a tragedy like this. Godspeed Hena

  • http://feministing.com/members/kkimber/ Kirby

    Ok lets go through some Islam 101 (CNN, please listen too.)

    1. Imams cannot issue fatwas- only mullahs, or specialists in Sharia Law, may issue a fatwa.
    2. This case does not hold water according to Sharia Law. Three witnesses are required to actually see, not just hear, an instance of adultery or rape. This leaves us in a bind both ways: 1. Hena could not have been convicted of adultery, but 2. Khan could not be convicted of rape.

    The problem is not about Sharia law, it’s about the lack of support for this girl and a disgusting preference for men regardless of their acts. I’m incredibly saddened by the actions of the community in this instances, but also by CNN’s blaming of Islam.
    That’s some shoddy reporting CNN.

    • http://feministing.com/members/dark_morgaine_le_fey/ dark_morgaine_le_fey

      Thank you for this outline. One of the struggles for feminists in the West is to help support grassroots movements of our sisters and brothers across the world (as Jenny said above), while at the same time being respectful of cultural differences – basically, how to help support changes for human rights without professing our cultural norms as “good” or “modern” while other traditions are “bad” or “backwards.” We know that the media has become more sensationalizing because it boosts ratings, and Islam and all of its followers often end up depicted as “crazy,” “backwards,” or “barbaric.” Obviously, I don’t condone lashing a 14 year old girl for any reason, let alone for what someone else did to her. However, it is important to recognize that individuals are not representative of a whole group. I too hope that Hena’s family can win their case and set a precedent which will help other girls and women in Bangladesh.

    • http://feministing.com/members/shadowen/ Mike

      Given that Sharia law is outlawed in Bangladesh to begin with, possibly the problem is that maybe it actually was an imam, and not an actual mullah, who pronounced the fatwa?

    • http://feministing.com/members/alita/ Alita

      What Kirby said.