Are Afghan Women Victims of the Justice System?

by Dr. CESAR CHELALA

Senior United Nations officials urged the Government of Afghanistan to implement legislation in line with international commitments to protect women from all forms of violence. They issued their request after the Afghan Parliament failed to ratify the Elimination of Violence Against Women law (EVAW) on May 18, 2013.

The Law on the Elimination of Violence Against Women banned and set serious penalties for underage and forced marriage, domestic violence, rape, forced prostitution and other abuses against women. President Hamid Karzai had passed the law with a presidential decree in 2009, but the law had to be ratified by Parliament. Failure to do so is a serious setback for women’s rights in the country.

Jan Kubis, the Secretary General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan and head of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said, “Progress in implementing the EVAW law contributes to deterring harmful practices and protecting women from violence in their daily lives.”

Although reliable statistics are not readily available, HRW estimates that there are now approximately 600 women and girls imprisoned in Afghanistan for “moral crimes”. Those moral crimes include flight from unlawful forced marriages. “The majority of women and girls imprisoned for “moral crimes” are actually victims themselves,” stated Phelim Kine, HRW’s deputy director for Asia.

Many women and girls are still forced into marriage, often at a very young age and to much older men. As a result, it is estimated that every two hours an Afghan woman or girl dies of pregnancy-related causes. This is due, in part, because they are forced to marry immediately after puberty and they give birth when their bodies still are not fully developed.

Many women leave those unhappy relationships. When this happens, however, their relatives track them down and accuse them of running away from their marriage or of zina, which is defined by Islamic Law as unlawful sexual intercourse between a man and a woman not married to each other. Some women have been convicted of zina after they were raped or forced into prostitution.

Even if charges are not proven, women suffer from invasive medical examinations (“virginity tests”) and severe damages to their credibility and reputation. “Coerced ‘virginity’ examinations are a form of sexual assault,” stated Brad Adams, HRW’s Asia Director. Only rarely the police and the justice system investigate claims of abuse cited by women as their reason for fleeing home.

In Afghanistan, there were expectations that more than ten years after the fall of the Taliban, women’s rights –which had been systematically abused during the Taliban’s rule- would be respected. However, a recent investigation by the Independent Media Consortium Productions (IMCP) shows a significant surge in violent acts against women. They range from sexual assault to beatings and murder.

The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) recorded 200 cases of murder and rape between January and September 2012, compared with 89 in 2011. However, there hasn’t been any significant progress in punishing the offenders.

Although there has been increased participation of women in Afghanistan’s social, educational and political life, prejudices and ineffectual application of laws continue to exact a heavy toll on women. While women who flee abuse often end up incarcerated, the men responsible for those abuses frequently enjoy impunity from prosecution.

To make matters even more discriminatory against women, the Supreme Court of Afghanistan has instructed the country’s judges to treat the “running away” as a crime, despite the absence of this offense in Afghan law. Prosecutors often argue that women and girls detained for “moral crimes” are of bad moral character and probably “fabricate” their stories of abuse.

Afghanistan’s justice system should investigate all crimes against women and prosecute those presumed guilty. Until Afghanistan’s justice system treats all its citizens equally, the country will continue to be a pariah among those nations that respect justice and women’s rights.

Dr. Cesar Chelala is an international public health consultant and a co-winner of an Overseas Press Club of America award.

Dr. Cesar Chelala is an international public health consultant.

Like What You’ve Read? Support CounterPunch
Weekend Edition
August 28-30, 2015
Randy Blazak
Donald Trump is the New Face of White Supremacy
Jeffrey St. Clair
Long Time Coming, Long Time Gone
Mike Whitney
Looting Made Easy: the $2 Trillion Buyback Binge
Alan Nasser
The Myth of the Middle Class: Have Most Americans Always Been Poor?
Rob Urie
Wall Street and the Cycle of Crises
Andrew Levine
Viva Trump?
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
Behind the Congressional Disagreements Over the Iran Nuclear Deal
Lawrence Ware – Marcus T. McCullough
I Won’t Say Amen: Three Black Christian Clichés That Must Go
Evan Jones
Zionism in Britain: a Neglected Chronicle
John Wight
Learning About the Migration Crisis From Ancient Rome
Andre Vltchek
Lebanon – What if it Fell?
Charles Pierson
How the US and the WTO Crushed India’s Subsidies for Solar Energy
Robert Fantina
Hillary Clinton, Palestine and the Long View
Ben Burgis
Gore Vidal Was Right: What Best of Enemies Leaves Out
Suzanne Gordon
How Vets May Suffer From McCain’s Latest Captivity
Robert Sandels - Nelson P. Valdés
The Cuban Adjustment Act: the Other Immigration Mess
Uri Avnery
The Molten Three: Israel’s Aborted Strike on Iran
John Stanton
Israel’s JINSA Earns Return on Investment: 190 Americans Admirals and Generals Oppose Iran Deal
Bill Yousman
The Fire This Time: Ta-Nehisi Coates’s “Between the World and Me”
Scott Parkin
Katrina Plus Ten: Climate Justice in Action
Michael Welton
The Conversable World: Finding a Compass in Post-9/11 Times
Brian Cloughley
Don’t be Black in America
Kent Paterson
In Search of the Great New Mexico Chile Pepper in a Post-NAFTA Era
Binoy Kampmark
Live Death on Air: The Killings at WDBJ
Gui Rochat
The Guise of American Democracy
Emma Scully
Vultures Over Puerto Rico: the Financial Implications of Dependency
Chuck Churchill
Is “White Skin Privilege” the Key to Understanding Racism?
Kathleen Wallace
The Id(iots) Emerge
Andrew Stewart
Zionist Hip-Hop: a Critical Look at Matisyahu
Gregg Shotwell
The Fate of the UAW: Study, Aim, Fire
Halyna Mokrushyna
Decentralization Reform in Ukraine
Norman Pollack
World Capitalism, a Basket Case: A Layman’s View
Sarah Lazare
Listening to Iraq
John Laforge
NSP/Xcel Energy Falsified Welding Test Documents on Rad Waste Casks
Wendell G Bradley
Drilling for Wattenberg Oil is Not Profitable
Joy First
Wisconsin Walk for Peace and Justice: Nine Arrested at Volk Field
Mel Gurtov
China’s Insecurity
Mateo Pimentel
An Operator’s Guide to Trump’s Racism
Yves Engler
Harper Conservatives and Abuse of Power
Michael Dickinson
Police Guns of Brixton: Another Unarmed Black Shot by London Cops
Ron Jacobs
Daydream Sunset: a Playlist
Charles R. Larson
The Beginning of the Poppy Wars: Amitav Ghosh’s “Flood of Fire”
David Yearsley
A Rising Star Over a Dark Forest
August 27, 2015
Sam Husseini
Foreign Policy, Sanders-Style: Backing Saudi Intervention
Brad Evans – Henry A. Giroux
Self-Plagiarism and the Politics of Character Assassination: the Case of Zygmunt Bauman