KABUL jailed for fleeing forced and abusive marriages, and other “moral crimes”, has soared since 2011.
The New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said about 600 women and girls are in prison for offences including running away from their husband or family, even though fleeing abuse is not a crime under Afghan law.
Eighteen months ago, 400 women were being held for such “moral crimes”, the rights group said, quoting figures from the ministry of interior, which runs the country’s jails.
The report was released days after Afghanistan‘s parliament failed to pass a landmark law protecting women from violence.
Prisoners interviewed by Human Rights Watch said the women had fled their homes in a bid to escape abuse, including underage marriage, beatings, stabbings, burnings and forced prostitution.
Often they were subjected to unscientific “virginity tests” after their arrest, which the report said amounted to a cruel and degrading form of sexual assault.
Running away is not illegal under the Afghan criminal code, but the country’s supreme court has ordered the prosecution of women who flee their families.
Senior government officials have confirmed it is not a crime but those views have not translated into policy, Human Rights Watch said, calling on the president to free all women jailed for leaving home.
Rape victims are also imprisoned for “forced adultery” because sex outside marriage is a crime in Afghanistan and judges and prosecutors ignored questions of consent. And in all but a handful of the cases there was no investigation of the abuse that prompted the women to flee, while prosecution or punishment were even rarer.
“Twelve years after Taliban rule, women are still imprisoned for being victims of forced marriage, domestic violence, and rape,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The Afghan government needs to get tough on abusers of women, and stop blaming women who are crime victims.”
“Afghanistan’s donors have a crucial role to play in supporting shelters that are literally life-saving for many women,” Adams said. “They should not only help ensure the survival of the shelters that exist, but support expansion of the shelter system including in southern Afghanistan.”