A new report by the Human Rights Watch shows that in the past 18 months the number of women in Afghanistan incarcerated for ‘moral crimes’ has increased from 400 to 600, a 50% growth.
Many of the women imprisoned for moral crimes were arrested running away from forced or abusive marriages and families, even though there is no law against leaving. Others are imprisoned for rape, as it is considered “forced adultery.” Many of the women imprisoned were also forced to have “virginity tests,” an invasive and medically inaccurate exam. Of the female prison population in Afghanistan, 95% of girls and 50% of women are in jail for moral crimes.
In a statement by the Human Rights Watch, the organization stated, “While several high-level Afghan government officials, including from the police and Justice Ministry, have in the past year publicly confirmed that ‘running away’ is not a crime under Afghan law, such statements have yet to translate into policy, [the report found]. Some legal experts have suggested that a growing view that women and girls should not be charged with ‘running away’ has merely resulted in a shift toward charging them with attempted zina. A charge of attempted zina unjustifiably assumes that women outside of the supervision of their male relatives must have attempted to have sex.”
Heather Barr, the Afghanistan researcher for the Human Rights Watch, told reporters “I think it’s possible that as everyone anticipates the departure of foreigners [foreign soldiers], there is a feeling that in a sense things can go back to normal, and… people will be free to ignore [women’s rights] in the future. If that’s true, that’s really is a tragedy, because these ideas didn’t come from foreigners. These ideas came from Afghan women’s rights activists.”
The report comes days after the Afghan parliament failed to ratify a law that would help strengthen anti-violence measures in the country. On Saturday, the Speaker of the Lower House of Afghan Parliament delayed a vote on the Elimination of Violence against Women law after two hours of vociferous debate between conservative religious and more liberal members of Parliament. The Speaker did not specify when the measure would be placed on the floor for a vote again.