According to BBC News, Human Rights Watch has said that hundreds of Afghan women are in prison for “moral crimes”- crimes that include running away, being raped or extra-marital sex.
In Afghanistan, having sex outside of marriage, even when the woman is forced, is considered adultery- another “moral crime.”
The “I had to Run Away” report released in Kabul on Wednesday said that, while there have been progress in women’s rights since the overthrow of the Taliban in 2001, Afghan women still face a lot of discrimination and the Afghan government, which has not done much to help the situation, is still violating international law.
President Hamid Karzai has pardoned some women and children for “moral crimes,” including his most recent pardon on March 8, where he ordered “convicted women… if they ran away from their parents’ house in order to marry their ideal person or if they married their ideal person shall be forgiven unconditionally.”
However, while there has been some progress, women still face discrimination and abuses, including forced and underage marriage and domestic violence that is rarely prosecuted. When facing domestic violence, Afghan women are not met with support from police officers and government officials. Instead, “women who try to flee abusive situations often face apathy, derision, and criminal sanctions for committing ‘moral crimes,'” according to the report.
The report, which is based off of “interviews in Afghanistan with 58 women and girls in three women’s prisons and three juvenile rehabilitation centers” and other individuals (including government officials, civil society members and prison wardens), “demonstrates twin injustices in the Afghan legal system: the often vigorous enforcement of vaguely defined or undefined ‘moral crimes,’ and the correspondingly anemic enforcement of the Law on the Elimination of Violence Against Women (EVAW Law),” according to the report.
According to Human Rights Watch, about 400 women and girls were imprisoned for “moral crimes” in January, although there accurate statistics are not publicly available. The statistics from Human Rights Watch comes from prior studies and the work they did in late 2011.
In the report, Human Rights Watch recommended steps for the Afghan government to take to remedy the discrimination against women, which leaves women imprisoned for “moral crimes.”
1. Running Away: The Afghan Supreme Court should replace the 2010/2011 guidance that criminalizes running away with a new guidance that clarifies that running away is not a crime and cannot be prosecuted. Furthermore, the president should issue a decree declaring that running away is not a crime under Afghan law and that everyone who has been convicted will be pardoned. Finally, international donors should make the implementation of the EVAW Law and subsequent other laws that remedy discrimination of women key issues in political engagement with Afghanistan.
2.Domestic Abuse/Forced Marriage/etc.:The Attorney General should implement better instructions requiring prosecutors to look into allegations of crimes against women under the EVAW Law, bring charges against those who have committed such crimes and look into whether women accused of crimes were acting in response to abuse. Furthermore, the Minister of Interior should instruct all police that they should report all incidences of domestic violence to the prosecutor immediately.
3. “International donors should provide stable, predictable, long-term assistance for shelters, including for expanding the current capacity of the shelter system and developing “open” shelters, safe housing for women leaving prison, and long-term support for women permanently unable to reunite with their families,” according to the report.