Approximately 400 women and girls are currently imprisoned for “moral crimes” in Afghanistan, says a new report released today by Human Rights Watch (HRW). The report finds that almost all girls in juvenile detention in Afghanistan had been arrested for “moral crimes” which usually involved escaping from unlawful forced marriage or domestic violence.
Some women and girls have been convicted of “zina,” sex outside of marriage, after being raped or forced into prostitution.
“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 HRW. “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.”
HRW conducted 58 interviews with women and girls accused of “moral crimes.” Some of the women interviewed by HRW reported going to the police for help in escaping forced marriages and/or domestic abuse, only to find themselves arrested. HRW explains [PDF]:
[M]any of the women interviewed for this report were accused of “running away” and zina. Zina is a crime under the Afghan Penal Code, though “running away” is not. Zina is the crime of sexual intercourse by two individuals who are not married to each other. The sentence of “long imprisonment” for zina constitutes 5–15 years of imprisonment under Afghan law.
Women and girls interviewed by HRW described fleeing from forced and underage marriages, beatings, stabbings, burnings, rapes, forced prostitution, kidnapping and murder threats.
HRW warns that women and girls accused of “moral crimes” face a justice system stacked against them. The report describes situations in which: women are arrested solely on a complaint from a husband or relative; prosecutors ignore evidence that supports the women’s claims of innocence; and “confessions” are given in the absence of lawyers. While women routinely face long prison sentences for “moral crimes,” prosecutors and judges rarely work to prosecute cases of violence and abuse against the accused women.
One woman told HRW about her experience of “running away” after fleeing a husband and mother-in-law who beat her:
I will try to become independent and divorce him. I hate the word ‘husband.’ My liver is totally black from my husband… If I knew about prison and everything [that would happen to me] I would have just jumped into the river and committed suicide.