By Carolyn Abdenour
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East
KABUL, Afghanistan – On Wednesday, 28 March, Human Rights Watch (HRW) released “I Had to Run Away,” a report highlighting the approximately 400 Afghan women and girls who are imprisoned in jails and juvenile detention facilities for “moral crimes.” The authorities jailed women for escaping domestic abuse and surviving rape.
HRW Executive Director Kenneth Roth commented, “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.”
The report notes “some women and girls have been convicted of zina, sex outside of marriage, after being raped or forced into prostitution.” Judges routinely sentence women to lengthy prison sentences, including 10 years in some cases where a zina conviction could hold a 15 year sentence. Illiterate women often are convicted on “confessions” they “signed” without the government reading the confession to them and without a lawyer present.
The number of convictions for running away rose after the Afghan Supreme Court ruled in 2010 that women who ran away and did not immediately go to the police or a close relative would be incarcerated. The Court recommended these women be jailed as a precautionary remedy against promiscuity and prostitution. However, the Afghan criminal code does not define fleeing her home without permission as a crime.
The report emphasizes that President Hamid Karzai did not meet the standards prescribed by international human rights law. Although he passed the Law on the Elimination of Violence Against Women in 2009 to protect women, President Karzai has struggled ensuring women’s rights to please the conservative religious forces.
For example, the traditional practice baad (where families give their daughters away to settle disputes), forced under-age marriage, and domestic violence remain present in Afghanistan. President Karzai also supported a “code of conduct” submitted by the Ulema Council, a powerful council of clerics, that permitted certain situations for husbands to beat their wives, forbade women to study or work in mixed company, prohibited women from travelling without male chaperones, and stated a woman is secondary to a man. However, President Karzai declared pardons should be given to women that left their home to marry a husband of her choosing.
HRW interviewed 58 jailed girls and women for this 120-page report. The report details Asma W., a 36 year old women imprisoned when she ran away once her husband beat her, tossed boiling water on her, transmitted sexual diseases, and declared he intended to marry his mistress; 15 year old Fawzia sought security from a family that forced her into prostitution after they drugged her; and Farah G. is a 16 year old girl that eloped with her friend’s brother after they fell in love.
For further information, please see
Brisbane Times – Women’s Hefty Price for ‘Crimes’ – 30 Mar 2012
Pakistan Observer – Hundreds Of Women, Girls Jailed For ‘Moral Crimes’ In Afghanistan – 29 Mar 2012
BBC – Hundreds of Afghan Women Jailed For ‘Moral Crime’ – 28 Mar 2012
Irish Independent – 400 Women and Girls Held In Afghanistan For ‘Moral Crimes’ – 28 Mar 2012