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Women and girls jailed for fleeing abuse in Afghanistan


Rahcl Salmon
WVoN co-editor

Human Rights Watch is calling on the Afghan government to release over 400 women it says have been imprisoned for ‘moral crimes’ like fleeing a forced marriage or domestic violence, or zina, sex outside of marriage,

The charity released a report yesterday called “I had to run away“, which was conducted with 58 women and girls arrested for ‘moral crimes’ and jailed in three prisons and three juvenile detention facilities in Afghanistan.

The authors estimate that almost all girls and over half of women in prison in Afghanistan have been accused of ‘moral crimes’.

“It is shocking that 10 years after the overthrow of the Taliban, women and girls are still imprisoned for running away from domestic violence or forced marriage,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch.

“No one should be locked up for fleeing a dangerous situation even if it’s at home. President Karzai and Afghanistan’s allies should act decisively to end this abusive and discriminatory practice.”

Human Rights Watch says Afghan women face a justice system stacked against them.

They say that while running away, or fleeing home without permission, is not a crime under the Afghan criminal code, the Afghan Supreme Court has instructed its judges to treat women and girls who flee as criminals.

And while domestic violence was outlawed in 2009, police arrest women solely on a complaint of a husband or relative.

Prosecutors ignore evidence that supports women’s assertions of innocence. Judges often convict solely on the basis of “confessions” given in the absence of lawyers and “signed” without having been read to women who cannot read or write.

After conviction, women routinely face long prison sentences, in some cases more than 10 years.

Arabic divorce laws make the situation worse, as a man can simply declare himself divorced, but for a woman the process is much more difficult.

“Courts send women to prison for dubious ‘crimes’ while the real criminals – their abusers –walk free,” Roth said.

“Even the most horrific abuses suffered by women seem to elicit nothing more than a shrug from prosecutors, despite laws criminalizing violence against women.”

This sends a clear message to others enduring abuse that seeking help from the government is likely to result in punishment, not rescue

“The Afghan government and its international partners should act urgently to protect women’s rights and to ensure there is no backsliding,”  said Roth.

“President Karzai, the United States, and others should finally make good on the bold promises they made to Afghan women a decade ago by ending imprisonment for ‘moral crimes,’ and actually implementing their stated commitment to support women’s rights,” he said.

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