Rape and Domestic Violence: The EVAW law criminalizes violence against women, including rape, battery, or beating; forced marriage; humiliation; intimidation; and deprivation of inheritance, although its implementation remained limited. The law provides for a sentence of 16 to 20 years’ imprisonment for rape. If the act results in the death of the victim, the law provides for a death sentence for the perpetrator. The law provides for imprisonment of up to seven years for the “violation of chastity of a woman…that does not result in adultery (such as sexual touching).” Under the law, rape does not include spousal rape. The law was not widely understood, and some in the public and the religious communities deemed the law un-Islamic. Many authorities lacked the political will to implement the law and failed to enforce it fully.
The AIHRC reported 2,621 cases of violence against women from January through August, including nine killings, 79 cases of sexual violence, 34 sexual harassment cases, 733 beatings, and 44 forced engagements or marriages. Because of the security situation in the country, large numbers of violent crimes committed against women were unreported. In addition to AIHRC’s report, the Ministry of Women’s Affairs also reported 1,465 cases of violence against women within the first six months of the year, with Ghor, Baghlan, Badakshan, Nargarhar, Takhar, and Balkh Provinces showing the highest numbers.
The AGO operated 33 EVAW prosecution units in 33 provinces. In March the AGO held its second national meeting of EVAW prosecutors to facilitate communication between different provincial EVAW units and identify common issues. According to a January report by the Research Institute for Women Peace and Security, a domestic NGO, and the Chr. Michelsen Institute, of 2,958 cases registered with EVAW units in eight provinces studied, 792 or 27 percent resulted in indictments, and of these, 59 percent led to convictions. Among indicted cases, the conviction rate was highest for rape, with 73 percent of indictments leading to a conviction (41 percent of all registered rape cases resulted in convictions).
From March 2014 to March 2015, the government reported 4,541 registered cases of violence against women, with 3,038 registered under the EVAW law. The Ministry of Women’s Affairs, Ministry of Interior, and AGO also registered 1,179 cases of divorce, separation, annulment of engagements, alimony, and child custody, which may or may not have stemmed from domestic violence, bringing the total number of registered cases to 5,720.
Pajhwork News released a report on the role of mediation outside the formal justice system in cases of violence against women. Because mediation takes place at the community level, the male-driven process restricted the reporting of violence against women cases. The same report showed a compilation of data of more than 21,000 of cases of violence against women over the last six years alone. Nearly 70 percent of the cases were registered with the Ministry of Women’s Affairs and the police, but only an estimated 5 percent made it to the courts.
Prosecutors and judges in some remote provinces were unaware of the EVAW law, and others were subject to community pressure to release defendants due to familial loyalties, threat of harm, or bribes. Reports indicated men accused of rape often claimed the victim agreed to consensual sex, leading to zina charges against the victim, or perpetrators made false claims of marriage to the victim.
Rapes were difficult to document due to social stigma. Male victims seldom came forward due to fear of retribution or additional exploitation by authorities, but peer sexual abuse was reportedly common. Female victims faced stringent societal reprisal, ranging from being deemed unfit for marriage to being imprisoned for sexual conduct outside of marriage, or became victims of extrajudicial killing.
According to the 2016 Asia Foundation’s Annual Survey of the Afghan People, only 23.8 percent of women surveyed knew of an organization, institution, or authority in their area where women could go to have their problems resolved. Forced virginity testing remains legal, and police, prosecutors, and judges frequently ordered virginity tests in cases where women or girls were accused of “moral crimes” such as zina. Women who sought assistance in cases of rape often became subjects of virginity tests and in some instances had their cases converted into adultery cases. According to a September 2015 AIHRC report on forced gynecological exams, 48 of 53 female prisoners interviewed had been subjected to virginity tests, and of these, 20 said they had been tested more than once. The AIHRC publicly condemned virginity testing, citing that the practice had no scientific basis and that performing medical tests without the patient’s consent is a violation of the right to freedom and human dignity. Interpretations of sharia also impeded successful prosecution of rape cases.
In February media reported a group of armed kidnappers in Kapisa Province took a 10-year-old from her family’s home and married her to one of the group leaders’ son, a 30-year-old man. In July media reported that family members of a 15-year-old girl in Baghlan Province killed her and a 17-year-old male after accusing them of committing zina. In April a group of armed men gang-raped an 18-year-old in her home in Balkh Province.
The penal code criminalizes assault, and courts convicted domestic abusers under this provision, as well as the beating provision in the EVAW law. According to NGO reports, hundreds of thousands of women continued to suffer abuse at the hands of their husbands, fathers, brothers, in-laws, armed individuals, parallel legal systems, and institutions of state, such as the police and justice systems.
Police response to domestic violence was limited, in part due to low reporting, sympathy toward perpetrators, and limited protection for victims. Some police and judicial officials were unaware or unconvinced that rape was a serious criminal offense, and investigating rape cases was generally not a priority. Even in instances in which justice officials took rape seriously, some cases reportedly did not proceed due to bribery, family or tribal pressure, or other interference during the process. The AIHRC’s 2013 report on rape and honor killing asserted that one-third of cases on rape and honor killings were addressed in accordance with the law. In its study the AIHRC found that 35 percent of rape and honors killings were not appropriately prosecuted. The AIHRC and NGOs contended that due to societal acceptance of the practice, most cases were unreported and never reached prosecutors.
According to the AIHRC, more than 2,579 cases of violence against women were reported between March and September 2015. The AIHRC noted that the majority of reports concerned verbal and psychological violence and noted an increase in the number of reported cases from the same period the previous year. The Ministry of Women’s Affairs reported that up to 600 cases of violence against women were registered in the first three months of the year, the majority of which involved physical violence. Accurate statistics on the extent of violence against women, however, were difficult to obtain. The most recent research done on the prevalence of violence against women (as opposed to reported cases) was conducted by Global Rights and published in 2008. According to that report, 87 percent of women had experienced some form of physical, sexual, or psychological violence in their lives, and 62 percent had experienced more than one type of violence.
Most women did not seek legal assistance for domestic or sexual abuse because they did not know their rights or because they feared prosecution or return to their family or the perpetrator. Women sometimes practiced self-immolation, and the Ministry of Women’s Affairs reported there continued to be cases of suicide as a result of domestic violence. Women continued to turn to NGO-run women’s protection centers (women’s shelters) and associated family guidance centers for assistance, and according to UNAMA’s April 2015 report on women’s access to justice, victims particularly valued the physical protection afforded by these centers, which often represented the only safe refuge for women. According to NGOs that ran women’s protection centers countrywide, police continued to make up the most significant source of referrals, likely reflecting improved ANP training and awareness.
Space at the 28 women’s protection centers across the country was sometimes insufficient, particularly in major urban centers, and shelters remained concentrated in the western, northern, and central regions of the country. Women who could not be reunited with their families or who were unmarried were generally compelled to remain in protection centers indefinitely, because “unaccompanied” women were not commonly accepted in society. The difficulty of finding durable solutions for women compelled to stay in protection centers was compounded by societal attitudes toward the shelters as centers of prostitution, the belief that “running away from home” was a serious violation of social mores, and the continued victimization of women who were raped but perceived by society as adulterers.
Women in need of protection who could not find it often ended up in prison, either due to a lack of a protection center in their province or district, or based on local interpretation of “running away” as a moral crime. Adultery, fornication, and kidnapping are crimes under the law. Women often were convicted of those crimes in situations of abuse, rape, or forced marriage, or on the basis of invalid evidence, including virginity tests. Running away is not a crime under the law, and both the Supreme Court and AGO issued directives to this effect, but women and girls continued to be detained for running away from home or “attempted zina.” As of November 30, approximately 51 percent of female prisoners were incarcerated for moral crimes, according to GDPDC records.
The Ministry of Women’s Affairs, as well as nongovernmental entities, sometimes arranged marriages for women who could not return to their families.
Police units charged with addressing violence against women, children, and families, included female officers. Although trained to help victims of domestic violence, the officers were hindered by instructions to wait for victims to take the initiative and reach out to them.
Other Harmful Traditional Practices: The EVAW law criminalizes forced, underage, and “baad” marriages (the practice of settling disputes in which the culprit’s family trades a girl to the victim’s family to settle a dispute) and interference with a woman’s right to choose her spouse. According to the United Nations and Human Rights Watch, an estimated 70 percent of marriages were forced. Despite laws banning the practice, many brides continued to be younger than the legal marriage age of 16 (or 15 with a guardian’s and a court’s approval). Some local media reported an increase in child marriages during the year, although it was unclear whether this reflected an actual increase in the practice or rather an increase in reports. A 2014 AIHRC survey found more than 7 percent of respondents reported their daughters were married before the age of 16. Very few marriages were legally registered with the state, leaving forced marriages outside of legal control.
Violence against women is also often a driving factor in cases of suicide and self-immolation. Under the penal code, a man convicted of honor killing after finding his wife committing adultery cannot be sentenced to more than two years’ imprisonment. Honor killings continued, although accurate statistics were difficult to obtain. In July a 14-year-old pregnant girl in Ghor Province died in a local hospital after being burned alive in an honor killing by her husband and his family. When the girl’s father reported the harassment and violence his daughter had suffered to the police, local authorities dismissed him and suggested he should settle the differences with the girl’s in-laws. There were reports of summary justice by the Taliban and other antigovernment elements that resulted in extrajudicial executions. In June a woman in Ghor Province was abducted and shot after cancelling her engagement, and in July the Taliban publicly executed a 19-year-old woman in Sar-e-Pul Province for running away from home after a domestic dispute. UNAMA reported that the Taliban lashed a woman in the Sha Joy district of Zabul Province, citing adultery.
Sexual Harassment: The EVAW law criminalizes harassment and persecution of women but does not define these terms. A Regulation on Prohibition of Women’s Sexual Harassment entered into effect in October 2015, when it was published in the official gazette. The regulation, which was adopted pursuant to the EVAW law, defines harassment against women and establishes and identifies mechanisms for complaint and redress. Women who walked outside alone or who worked outside the home often experienced abuse or harassment, including groping, or they were followed on the streets in urban areas. Women who took on public roles that challenged gender stereotypes (such as lawmakers, political leaders, NGO leaders, police officers, and news broadcasters) continued to be intimidated by conservative elements and received death threats directed at them or their families. NGOs reported violence, including killings, against women working in the public and nonprofit sectors and initiated awareness-raising campaigns to mobilize groups against harassment. Female members of the ANP reported harassment by their male counterparts, and there were reports that female ANP members and their families experienced intimidation and discrimination within their communities. In May a group of female social activists launched a website to help women register and report incidents of violence and seek advice on how to resolve their issues.
Reproductive Rights: Women generally exercised little decision-making authority regarding marriage, the timing, and number of pregnancies, birthing practices, and child education. Couples were free from government discrimination, coercion, and violence to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children, although family and community pressures to reproduce, the high prevalence of child and early marriages, and lack of accurate biological knowledge limited their ability to do so. Women could expect to bear on average 5.1 children in their lifetimes. Oral contraceptives, intrauterine devices, injectable contraceptives, and condoms were available commercially and were provided at no cost in public health facilities and at subsidized rates in private health facilities and through community health workers. The UN Population Fund estimated that 23 percent of women of reproductive age used a modern method of contraception. Between January and August, the AIHRC registered eight cases of forced abortion from women and girls.
According to the World Health Organization’s, UN’s, and World Bank’s Trends in Maternal Mortality Report: 1990-2013, the maternal mortality rate in 2013 was 400 deaths per 100,000 live births. This represented a two-thirds reduction in maternal mortality since 1995. Early marriage and pregnancy put girls at greater risk for premature labor, complications during delivery, and death in childbirth. Postpartum hemorrhage and obstructed labor were key causes of maternal mortality. Only 34 percent of births were attended by a skilled health practitioner, and only 21 percent of girls and women between the ages of 15 and 49 used a modern form of contraception.
Discrimination: Women who reported cases of abuse or who sought legal redress for other matters reported they experienced discrimination within the judicial system. Some observers, including female judges, asserted that discrimination was a result of faulty implementation of law and cultural nuances, rather than the law itself. A woman’s limited access to money and other resources to pay fines (or bribes) and the social requirement for women to have a male guardian affected their access to and participation in the justice system. Local practices were discriminatory against women in some areas, particularly in parts of the country where courts were not functional or knowledge of the law was minimal. Judges in some remote districts acknowledged wide influence by tribal authorities in preempting cases from the formal justice system. In August 2015 a man beheaded his wife in Baghlan Province after she sought a divorce from a local court.
In the informal system, elders relied on interpretations of sharia and tribal customs, which generally discriminated against women. Many women reported limited access to justice in male-dominated tribal shuras, where proceedings focused on reconciliation with the community and family rather than the rights of the individual. Women in some villages were not allowed any access to dispute resolution mechanisms. Lack of awareness of their legal rights and illiteracy also limited women’s ability to access justice. Women’s advocacy groups reported in some cases that the government intervened informally with local courts to encourage them to interpret laws in ways favorable to women. Many cases in remote districts, however, reportedly were resolved according to the local police officer’s or prosecutor’s discretion or interpretation of the law. When legal authorities were aware of the EVAW law and its implementation, women were in some cases able to get appropriate assistance. Prosecutors in some provinces, however, continued to be reluctant to use the EVAW law. Moreover, in cases in which prosecutors brought charges under the EVAW law, judges would sometimes replace those charges with others based on the penal code.
Police, prosecutors, and judges discriminated against women in criminal and civil legal proceedings stemming from violence and forced marriages. Enhanced availability of legal aid, including through female attorneys, provided some relief in formal justice system proceedings.
Cultural prohibitions limiting women’s movement prevented many women from working outside the home and reduced their access to education, health care, police protection, and other social services. In December the head of the council of religious scholars (Ulema Council) in Takhar Province declared women were the “most shameful” persons. He was fired immediately after his statement.
The law provides for equal work without discrimination, but there are no provisions for equal pay for equal work. The EVAW law criminalizes interference with a woman’s right to work. Women faced discrimination in access to employment and terms of occupation. Some educated urban women found substantive work, but many were relegated to menial tasks in the workplace, regardless of qualification. There were 2,834 female police officers as of September 2015, including those in training, constituting less than 2 percent of the total police force. While the government made efforts to recruit additional female police officers, cultural customs and discrimination rendered recruitment and retention difficult. Women in high-profile positions of government service continued to be subjected to threats and violence.
The Ministry of Women’s Affairs and NGOs promoted women’s rights and freedoms. According to the AIHRC, many women in the civil service did not meet the minimum qualification of a bachelor’s degree imposed by the priority reform and restructuring system. The women’s ministry, the primary government agency responsible for addressing gender policy and the needs of women, had offices in all provinces and established gender units in all ministries. Gender units at lower ranks, however, lacked major influence, and men typically dominated their leadership positions. Although the ministry’s provincial offices assisted hundreds of women by providing legal and family counseling and referring women, they could not directly assist relevant organizations. The ministry and provincial line directorates suffered from a lack of capacity and resources.
Despite improvements in health over the past decade, the overall health of women and children remained poor, particularly among nomadic and rural populations and those in insecure areas. As with men, women’s life expectancy was 64 years of age. Rural women suffered disproportionately from insufficient numbers of skilled health personnel, particularly female health workers.
Compared to men, women and children were disproportionately victims of preventable deaths due to communicable diseases. Although free health services were provided in public facilities, many households could not afford certain costs related to medicines or transportation to health-care facilities, and many women were not permitted to travel to health-care facilities on their own.