Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Kosovo: Women Suffering

Stemming domestic violence and human trafficking remains a challenge in the newly independent nation.

PRISTINA, KOSOVO -- She purses her lips in a "tsk-tsk" when asked difficult questions. Questions about her life, about the husband who beats her, the father who denies her an inheritance and a place to live.

Slightly hunchbacked, her thin frame barely fills the several layers of donated clothing she wears. At 26, she looks 15. She has three children and an elementary-school education. When she showed up at the door of a women's shelter here, purple bruises blotched her face and framed her shattered, crooked nose. Chunks of her hair had been ripped out.

"I've been beaten a lot," said Fatima. "They beat me so badly the last time, I could not care for my children."

In the last couple of years, she says, she has spent more time at the shelter, hiding, than in her husband's house. It is only a slight exaggeration.

Fatima is actually luckier than many women in Kosovo, a harsh region weighted by twin burdens of poverty and unenlightened tradition. A United Nations study in 2000 estimated that one-fourth of the female population of Kosovo suffered physical or psychological abuse; Kosovo police last year recorded 1,077 cases of domestic violence.

Fatima and her children were able to escape to a shelter, one of a dozen or so that now operate here. It has given her refuge from the violent men of her family and an alternative to an even darker fate: being sold into the expansive networks that traffic women like chattel in this part of the world.

But for every woman in Kosovo who is saved, an untold number do not make it, according to women's advocates and social workers...


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