Afghan Women Stigmatized For Moral Crimes

August 27, 2012 | By
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Women must always be mindful that there are men in the world who believe women should not have any rights, even in America.

For many women in Afghanistan committing a ‘moral crime’ is often the last resort in the face of unlawful forced marriages and domestic violence. The result is that the victims become criminals.

For a young woman whose husband had stabbed her in the neck with a screwdriver, the only choice was to run away.

She claimed he’d gotten angry and attacked her, and that she’d committed adultery as a justification. Jailed for that moral crime – grievous in Afghanistan – she then watched as he himself was arrested and released within an hour and a half.

Her injuries were so grievous, authorities said, that she was going to die anyway, so he didn’t need to be in prison.

In Afghanistan, moral crimes remain one of the murkiest areas of the law.

he women’s actions “aren’t ‘moral’ crimes at all,” says Elsie DeLaere, an Afghanistan country specialist for Amnesty International. “It is an outrageous attempt by some members of the Afghan government, judiciary and police to silence the voices of abused women and to intimidate Afghan women from speaking out about the abuses against them.”

More than 400 women, mostly teenage girls, remain in Kabul juvenile prisons on charges that usually involve running away from unlawful forced marriage and domestic violence.

Victim and criminal

Others have been accused of “zina,” sex outside of marriage after being raped or forced into prostitution.

Prosecutors often treat the fact that a man and woman acknowledge knowing each other as evidence of zina, and assume that running away is motivated by a desire to commit zina, as opposed to abuse in the home.

With moral crimes, crime victims become criminals.

“It’s a re-victimization,” says Heather Barr, Human Rights Watch’s Afghanistan researcher, who authored “I Had to Run Away,” a 120-page report on moral crimes in the country.

“What really concerns us is that it’s hundreds of women involved, and it’s almost always stories of women running from forced marriage or domestic violence. Every time a woman is arrested, it sends a message to the other women in her community that if you’re being abused, you shouldn’t look to the government for help because you’re more likely to get punished again.”

Risks after leaving jail

One hundred percent of the girls in Kabul’s juvenile detention centers are there for such crimes. The runaways rarely return home and escape sentencing. “Girls are almost always ever locked up for these cases,” Barr says, “and it’s usually a situation where a teen girl has run away from home to avoid being married to someone against her will.”

Worse is the risk they face after leaving prison.

“A third of them seemed they were at risk of being murdered by their families after they were released from jail,” Barr says.

“I would talk to women in jail who already felt like they were dead.”

There have been small signs of progress.

In early April, the Afghan Attorney General sent a letter to prosecutors in all provinces saying that they should not prosecute girls and women who ran away if the reason for flight was simply that they did not want to marry.

The justification that judges and prosecutors have given for persecuting moral crimes is that the women are running away in order to free themselves to commit crimes – namely zina, which is illegal under Afghan law.

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Category: GLOBAL

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