Afghanistan is an Islamic republic with a directly elected president, a bicameral legislative branch, and a judicial branch. Based on the electoral calendar specified in the constitution, parliamentary elections were to have taken place in 2015; however, these elections were not held by year’s end.
Civilian authorities generally maintained control over the security forces, although security forces occasionally acted independently.
The most significant human rights issues included extrajudicial killings by security forces; disappearances, torture; arbitrary arrest; detention, including of women accused of so-called moral crimes; and sexual abuse of children by security force members. Additional problems included violence against journalists, criminalization of defamation; pervasive government corruption; and lack of accountability and investigation in cases of violence against women. Discrimination against persons with disabilities and ethnic minorities and discrimination based on race, religion, gender, and sexual orientation persisted with little accountability.
Widespread disregard for the rule of law and official impunity for those who committed human rights abuses were serious problems. The government did not consistently or effectively prosecute abuses by officials, including security forces.
There were major attacks on civilians by armed insurgent groups and targeted assassinations by armed insurgent groups of persons affiliated with the government. The Taliban and other insurgents continued to kill security force personnel and civilians using indiscriminate tactics such as improvised explosive devices (IEDs), suicide attacks, and rocket attacks, and to commit disappearances and torture. The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) attributed 67 percent of civilian casualties (1,141 deaths and 3,574 injured) to nonstate actors. The Taliban used children as suicide bombers, soldiers, and weapons carriers. Other antigovernment elements threatened, robbed, kidnapped, and attacked government workers, foreigners, medical and nongovernmental organization (NGO) workers, and other civilians.
Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Rape and Domestic Violence: The EVAW law criminalizes 22 acts of violence against women, including rape, battery, or beating; forced marriage; humiliation; intimidation; and deprivation of inheritance. 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. Authorities did not always fully enforce the EVAW law.
Prosecutors and judges in remote provinces were frequently unaware of the EVAW law or received pressure to release defendants due to familial loyalties, threat of harm, or bribes, or because some religious leaders declared the law un-Islamic. Female victims faced stringent societal reprisal, ranging from imprisonment to extrajudicial killing. Interpretations of sharia also impeded successful prosecution of rape cases.
Forced virginity testing remained legal, and police, prosecutors, and judges continued to order virginity tests in cases of “moral crimes” such as zina. Women who sought assistance in cases of rape were often subject to virginity tests. The new penal code, signed into law by presidential decree on March 4 and scheduled to take effect in February 2018, contains language criminalizing virginity tests performed without the consent of the woman and a court order.
The penal code criminalizes assault, and courts convicted domestic abusers under this provision, as well as under the beating provision in the 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.
The justice system’s response to domestic violence was limited, in part due to low reporting, sympathy toward perpetrators, and bribery, family, or tribal pressure.
Space at the 29 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. 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 being sent back to their family or the perpetrator.
Women in need of protection often ended up in prison, either because their community lacked a protection center or based on the local interpretation of “running away” as a moral crime. Adultery, fornication, and kidnapping are criminal offenses. Running away is not a crime under the law, and both the Supreme Court and the Attorney General’s Office issued directives to this effect, but some local authorities continued to detain women and girls for running away from home or “attempted zina.” The Ministry of Women’s Affairs, as well as nongovernmental entities, sometimes arranged marriages for women who could not return to their families.
Other Harmful Traditional Practices: The 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) and interference with a woman’s right to choose her spouse.
Under the penal code, if a man convicted of honor killing sees his wife or other close relation in the act of committing adultery and immediately kills or injures one or both parties to defend his honor, he cannot receive a prison sentence of more than two years. On March 7, the Taliban convicted and stoned to death a woman accused of adultery in Badakhshan Province.
Sexual Harassment: The law criminalizes harassment and persecution ofwomen. Women who walked outside alone or who worked outside the home often experienced harassment, including groping and being followed. Women with public roles occasionally received threats directed at them or their families.
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion, involuntary sterilization, or other coercive population control methods. Estimates on maternal mortality and contraceptive prevalence are available at: www.who.int/reproductivehealth/publications/monitoring/maternal-mortality-2015/en/ .
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. Limited access to money and other resources to pay fines (or bribes) and the social requirement for women to have a male guardian affected women’s access to and participation in the justice system.
Prosecutors in some provinces continued to be reluctant to use the EVAW law, and judges would sometimes replace those charges with others based on the penal code.
The law provides for equal work without discrimination, but there are no provisions for equal pay for equal work. The law criminalizes interference with a woman’s right to work. Women faced discrimination in access to employment and terms of occupationOverall, 22 percent of civil servants and 5 percent of security forces were female, including 3,000 female police and 1,400 female soldiers.
Birth Registration: A citizen father transmits citizenship to his child. Birth in the country or to a citizen mother alone does not transfer citizenship. Adoption is not legally recognized. For more information, see data.unicef.org .
Education: Education is mandatory up to the lower secondary level (six years for primary school and three years for lower secondary), and the law provides for free education up to and including the college level. Many children, however, did not attend school.
Key obstacles to girls’ education included poverty, early and forced marriage, insecurity, lack of family support, lack of female teachers, and a lack of nearby schools. An October 2017 Human Rights Watch report observed that the government provided fewer schools for girls than boys and that the lack of basic provisions in many schools for security, privacy, and hygiene, including boundary walls, toilets, and water, also disproportionately affected girls.
Violent attacks on schoolchildren, particularly girls, also hindered access to education, particularly in areas controlled by the Taliban. The Taliban and other extremists threatened and attacked school officials, teachers, and students, particularly girls, and burned both boys’ and girls’ schools. There were press reports of sexual abuse perpetrated by teachers and school officials, particularly against boys. The government claimed families rarely pressed charges due to shame and doubt that the judicial system would respond.
Child Abuse: Police reportedly beat and sexually abused children. NGOs reported a predominantly punitive and retributive approach to juvenile justice throughout the country. Although it is against the law, corporal punishment in schools, rehabilitation centers, and other public institutions remained common.
There were reports that some members of the security forces, including members of the Afghan security forces, and progovernment groups sexually abused and exploited young girls and boys. On January 22, in Paktika Province, Afghan National Border Police reportedly sexually abused a 13-year-old boy at their check-post before shooting him. According to UNAMA, the perpetrators were serving six-year prison sentences for murder after being investigated and prosecuted by the Afghan National Police prosecution unit. There were multiple reports of “bacha bazi,” a practice in which men exploit boys for social and sexual entertainment. On March 20, a Tajik police commander in Faryab Province reportedly killed the son of another police commander, an Uzbek, for hosting a bacha bazi party with Tajik boys.
The government took steps to discourage the abuse of boys and to prosecute or punish those involved. On February 22, President Ghani signed a Law to Combat Crimes of Trafficking in Persons and Smuggling of Migrants, which includes legal provisions criminalizing behaviors associated with the sexual exploitation of children. The law criminalizes the various acts associated with bacha bazi, including not only sexual exploitation of a minor, but also forced dancing, and prescribes punishments ranging from eight to 12 years.
Early and Forced Marriage: Despite a law setting the legal minimum age for marriage at 16 for girls (15 with the consent of a parent or guardian and the court) and 18 for boys, international and local observers continued to report widespread early marriage. Under the EVAW law, those who arrange forced or underage marriages are subject to imprisonment for not less than two years, but implementation of the law was limited. During the year the government launched a five-year National Action Plan to Eliminate Early and Child Marriage.
By law a marriage contract requires verification that the bride is 16 years of age (or 15 with the permission of her parents or a court), but only a small fraction of the population had birth certificates.
There were reports from Badakhshan Province that Taliban militants bought young women to sell into forced marriage. The UN Development Program Legal Aid Grant Facility reported women increasingly petitioned for divorce.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: Although pornography is a crime, child pornography is not specified in the law. Exploitation of children for sexual purposes, often associated with bacha bazi, was widespread, although some aspects of this practice are separate crimes under the penal code.
Child Soldiers: In February 2016 the Law on Prohibition of Children’s Recruitment in the Military became effective. There were reports the ANDSF and progovernment militias recruited and used children in a limited number of cases, and the Taliban and other antigovernment elements recruited children for military purposes (see section 1.g.). Media reported that local progovernment commanders recruited children under 16 years of age. The Taliban and other antigovernment groups regularly recruited and trained children to conduct attacks.
Displaced Children: Returnee families and their children overwhelmed border areas, specifically Herat and Jalalabad. Although the government banned street begging in 2008, NGOs and government offices reported large numbers of children begging and living in the streets of major cities.
Institutionalized Children: Living conditions for children in orphanages were poor. NGOs reported up to 80 percent of children between ages four and 18 years in the orphanages were not orphans but came from families that could not provide food, shelter, or schooling. Children in orphanages reported mental, physical, and sexual abuse and occasionally were victims of trafficking. They did not have regular access to running water, heating in winter, indoor plumbing, health services, recreational facilities, or education. Security forces kept child detainees in juvenile detention centers run by the Ministry of Justice, except for a group of children arrested for national security violations who stayed at the detention facility in Parwan. NGOs reported these children were kept separate from the general population but still were at risk of radicalization.
International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.
There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.
Trafficking in Persons
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
Persons with Disabilities
The constitution prohibits any kind of discrimination against citizens and requires the state to assist persons with disabilities and to protect their rights, including the rights to health care and financial protection. The constitution also requires the state to adopt measures to reintegrate and provide for the active participation in society of persons with disabilities. The Law on the Rights and Benefits of Disabled Persons provides for equal rights to, and the active participation of, such persons in society.
Disability rights activists reported that corruption prevented some persons with disabilities from receiving benefits. There were reports that government officials redirected scholarship funds for persons with disabilities to friends or family through fraud and identity theft. NGOs and government officials also reported that associations of persons with disabilities attempted to intimidate ministry employees in an effort to secure benefits such as apartments.
Lack of security remained a challenge for disability programs. Insecurity in remote areas, where a disproportionate number of persons with disabilities lived, precluded delivery of assistance in some cases. The majority of buildings remained inaccessible to persons with disabilities, prohibiting many from benefitting from education, health care, and other services.
Persons with disabilities faced barriers such as limited access to educational opportunities, inability to access government buildings, lack of economic opportunities, and social exclusion.
In the Meshrano Jirga, authorities reserved two of the presidentially appointed seats for persons with disabilities. Per law, 3 percent of all government positions are reserved for persons with disabilities, but government officials admitted the law was not enforced.
Ethnic tensions between various groups continued to result in conflict and killings. Societal discrimination against Shia Hazaras continued along class, race, and religious lines in the form of extortion of money through illegal taxation, forced recruitment and forced labor, physical abuse, and detention. According to NGOs, the government frequently assigned Hazara ANP officers to symbolic positions with little authority within the Ministry of Interior. NGOs also reported Hazara ANDSF officers were more likely than non-Hazara officers to be posted to insecure areas of the country. During the year there was a marked rise in violence, principally carried out by ISIS-K, against the Hazara community. In August ISIS-K attacked Shia Hazara mosques in Herat and then Kabul, killing more than 100 persons. There were six major attacks on Shia mosques or Shia communities during the first half of the year, all attributed to ISIS-K.
Sikhs and Hindus faced discrimination, reporting unequal access to government jobs and harassment in school, as well as verbal and physical abuse in public places. According to the Sikh and Hindu Council of Afghanistan, there were approximately 900 members of the Sikh and Hindu community in the country.
Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
The law criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual conduct, and there were reports of harassment and violence by society and police. The law does not prohibit discrimination or harassment based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Homosexuality was widely seen as taboo and indecent. Members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) community did not have access to certain health services and could be fired from their jobs because of their sexual orientation. Organizations devoted to protecting the freedom of LGBTI persons remained underground because they could not legally register with the government. Members of the LGBTI community reported they continued to face discrimination, assault, rape, and arrest by security forces and society at large.
HIV and AIDS Social Stigma
There were no confirmed reports of discrimination or violence against persons with HIV/AIDS, but there was reportedly serious societal stigma against persons with AIDS.