After August 2021, the Taliban issued a series of repressive edicts effectively baring the participation of women and girls from most education, employment, recreational activities, and independent travel. These edicts, and their sometimes violent enforcement, severely reduced the ability of women and girls to participate in the economy and society. Opportunities for redress for abuses were slim to nonexistent under the Taliban.
Nearly all protection shelters for women and girls were closed after the Taliban takeover of Kabul. The shelters were looted, assets confiscated, and staff were harassed and abused. Taliban members stated survivors of abuses should resolve issues within their family unit. Since August 2021, Taliban police held women in detention centers after they reported gender-based violence.
Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape against both women and men. The de facto dismantling of the justice system by the Taliban severely eroded enforcement of these laws.
The support system for survivors of rape and most protection services were dismantled following the Taliban’s takeover. Since August 2021, UNAMA’s HRS received 87 reports of killing, rape, suicide, forced marriages including child marriage, assault and battery, and honor killings. None of the cases were processed through the formal justice system.
On January 12, representatives of a large provincial hospital in the country said they recorded 150 to 200 cases involving injuries from gender-based violence in a 10-day period, compared with approximately 70 to 100 cases a day before August 2021. There were reports that restricted access to health care and an unwillingness of women to report domestic violence severely decreased the number of cases reported to hospitals.
Domestic violence is viewed in the country as a “family matter.” Institutional responses to domestic violence were not available, and patriarchal norms, corruption, and family or tribal pressure persisted. Following August 2021, the AIHRC, Afghanistan Independent Bar Association, and specialized judicial infrastructure aimed at ending violence against women were dismantled. Women who previously served as judges, lawyers, and prosecutors fled or were replaced by former Taliban fighters and madrassah graduates, who often lacked legal training or expertise.
Female survivors faced stringent or violent societal reprisal, ranging from imprisonment to targeted killings.
The law criminalizes forced gynecological exams, which acted as “virginity tests,” except when conducted pursuant to a court order or with the consent of the subject. Awareness and enforcement of the restrictions on forced gynecological exams remained limited. There was insufficient information to determine whether the practice of forced gynecological exams continued under the Taliban.
Few women and family protection centers remained operational under the Taliban. When the shelters closed, many clients were reintegrated with their families or relocated. The Taliban reportedly intimidated and abused staff of some shelters before they closed.
Other Forms of Gender-based Violence: Under the 2004 constitution, 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. The Taliban reaffirmed the criminality of forced marriages in a decree issued on December 3, 2021. The practice of exchanging brides between families was not criminalized and remained widespread. “Honor killings” reportedly continued throughout the year.
A December 2021 Taliban decree concerning women’s rights states the following protections: women have the right to consent to marriage and cannot be forced; a widow has miras (inheritance rights) in relation to the property of her husband, children, father, and relatives; widows also have the right to receive a mahar (dowry) from a new husband; women in a polyamorous marriage are afforded rights in accordance with sharia; and the so-called supreme court must ensure courts consider applications involving women.
While these protections are stated in the decree, there were reports that judges and provincial governors were involved in upholding forced marriages. For example, a woman and her brother were summoned to court in Uruzgan Province on February 15 because of a marriage proposal she repeatedly refused. The so-called judges attempted to force her to accept the proposal and beat her and her brother severely when she refused. She and her brother fled their home, fearing further retribution, and her other brother was detained to compel her to accept the proposal. In another example, a girl, age 15, was sold by her father to marry a man she did not want to marry. She married another man to avoid the marriage supported by her father, which led to the father filing a complaint against her with the so-called authorities. She was arrested, imprisoned for 10 days, and then transferred to a provincial prison for further investigation.
Sexual Harassment: The law criminalizes all forms of harassment of women and children, including physical, verbal, psychological, and sexual harassment. The Taliban did not enforce the law.
After the Taliban takeover, most women-led businesses suspended operations due to the liquidity crisis and fear of violating Taliban edicts against women in the marketplace.
Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of the Taliban.
Women faced new barriers to receiving health care due to Taliban restrictions on male-female interactions, work, and travel. According to a study conducted by HRW, male doctors were afraid to treat female patients because of restrictions imposed by the Taliban on interactions between men and women. In addition, the Taliban prohibited male doctors from treating female patients unless they have a male chaperone. Women can see female doctors, but it was difficult to find them because of restrictions the Taliban placed on women working. Additionally, there were reports of women facing difficulties entering health clinics because they were not accompanied by a mahram. In an interview with the magazine Foreign Policy, a midwife recounted that two unaccompanied women who came to her clinic were forced out of the clinic by Taliban fighters and beaten with the butts of the fighters’ rifles.
Having a child outside of wedlock is a crime, but the punishment was unclear. In early February, a local doctor reported a woman in labor arrived alone, gave birth, and fled without her child because she was not married and feared retribution. Three days later, the Taliban reportedly detained the midwife and her husband and were moving to prosecute all 18 employees of the clinic. Mothers faced severe social stigma for having a child out of wedlock, even when the pregnancy was a result of rape. Abortion or ending a pregnancy was classified as a crime under the law and was punishable by three months to one year’s imprisonment.
Women must obtain their husband’s consent to use contraception under the law. Persons with disabilities faced increased barriers to reproductive health resources because of decreased access to transportation, education, and social support. HRW and Outright International, an LGBTQI+ rights NGO, conducted interviews with 60 members of the LGBTQI+ community from October to December 2021. The interviewees reported being attacked, sexually assaulted, or directly threatened by members of the Taliban because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Widespread discrimination and abuse prevented most members from seeking reproductive or sexual-health assistance from all but the most trusted confidants.
Families and individuals in cities generally had better access to information than did those living in rural areas. According to the United Nations, the rate of contraceptive use among married women was 35 percent for those living in urban areas, compared with 19 percent in rural areas. The World Health Organization reported that the country had 638 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births in 2017 (the most recent year of reported data). A survey conducted by the Central Statistics Organization in the provinces of Bamyan, Daikundi, Ghor, Kabul, Kapisa, and Parwan concluded that many factors contributed to the high maternal death rate, including early pregnancy, narrowly spaced births, and high fertility. Some societal norms, such as a tradition of home births and the requirement for some women to be accompanied by a male relative to leave their homes, led to negative reproductive health outcomes, including inadequate prenatal, postpartum, and emergency obstetric care.
The World Bank reported an adolescent fertility rate of 162.8 births per 1,000 women ages 15-19 in 2021 (the most recent data available).
The Taliban permit women to continue their roles as health practitioners, but many women were reportedly afraid to work due to safety and security concerns related to the Taliban’s stated policies restricting women in the workplace. The ever-smaller number of qualified female health practitioners steeply increased the risk of poor health outcomes for women.
Discrimination: The Taliban’s edicts formalized discrimination and exclusion of women and girls from most aspects of society and at a nationwide level. After the Taliban takeover, most female judges fled the country or went into hiding.
Women do not have equal legal rights, compared to men, to inherit assets as a surviving spouse, and daughters do not have equal rights, compared to sons, to inherit assets from their parents. By law women may not unilaterally divorce their husbands but must obtain their husband’s consent to the divorce, although men may unilaterally divorce their wives.
In September 2021, the Taliban regulated dress codes for female journalists and banned women from acting in films. In December 2021, Taliban edicts stated women were not allowed to travel further than 50 miles unless accompanied by a mahram and are required to wear a hijab when in a vehicle.
In February the Taliban allowed resumption of classes at public universities for men and women. It was reported that 123,000 women had returned in varying capacities to public and private universities. All classes were gender-segregated, and Taliban monitors required women to wear head coverings. On December 20, the Taliban issued an edict prohibiting female attendance of both public and private universities.
A long-anticipated resumption of secondary schools did not materialize in March, and the Taliban ban on female attendance remained in effect in most of the country. In April the Taliban prohibited female professors and students from attending meetings with male instructors. The same announcement also required male and female students to attend separate graduation ceremonies and advised female students to fully cover themselves and not to share any photographs or videos of their graduation ceremonies on social media.
In a press conference on February 27, Taliban so-called spokesperson Zabiullah Mujahid stated that women cannot travel abroad unless accompanied by a mahram. This edict was reinforced on March 24, when the Taliban ordered travel agencies across the country to not sell airplane or travel tickets to women without a mahram. Officials at the Kabul International Airport were instructed through a letter from the Taliban that unaccompanied women must not be allowed to travel.
On March 27, the Taliban issued a directive to owners of all Kabul entertainment parks, gardens, and picnic venues to ensure gender-segregated use of these areas by specific days, and for women to strictly adhere to hijab requirements. The Taliban expanded this edict in November, when they banned women from using public parks, gyms, and baths.
On May 7, the Taliban held a press conference to announce the new hijab requirements. The Taliban issued a decree that requires women to wear hijabs that cover their head, face, and full body in public. The decree also set out an “encouragement and punishment” process whereby male family members would be informed of a woman’s violation of the decree and the male family member would be punished with prison time after multiple offenses. The decree noted that female employees who do not abide by the regulation will be immediately dismissed, and male employees whose spouses and daughters do not comply will be suspended.
Women were able to continue in some Taliban roles, including at passport offices, airports, and women’s prisons, but the majority were relegated to their homes in what activists described as de facto house arrest. Many female employees of the pre-August 2021 government, besides those working in health and education services, remained at home.
Female students initially allowed to attend university faced further restrictions because of the mahram requirement. In an interview conducted by Rakhshaneh media, female students reported that the Taliban’s mahram policy forced their families to prevent them from continuing their education away from home. The students reported that they wanted to transfer to closer universities to make the travel restriction easier on their family.
The Taliban issued a December 20 edict with immediate effect prohibiting female attendance of both public and private universities. The so-called minister of higher education explained the restrictions as being required by Islam due to the use of female dormitories, failure of females to observe the Islamic veil, continued interactions between men and women on campus, and women studying subjects not appropriate for women’s dignity. A December 21 letter from the Ministry of Education created confusion regarding the Taliban’s policy on girls’ access to education and may have impeded girls’ ability to attend private schools, religious schools, and tutoring centers to include the levels of grades 1-6 in the final days of the year.
On December 24, the Taliban ordered all local and international NGOs to stop their Afghan female employees from coming to work, citing the nonobservance of Islamic dress rules and other laws and regulations as reasons for their edict.
Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination
Religion and ethnicity in the country are often closely linked, making it difficult to attribute many incidents to religious identity alone. Sikhs, Hindus, Christians, Ahmadi Muslims, and other non-Muslim minorities reported continued harassment and repression under the Taliban.
Religious minorities were at risk and faced numerous violent attacks. In November and December 2021, the Taliban arrested 28 members of the Ahmadiyya Muslim community in Kabul. According to the members of this community, the Taliban falsely accused them of being members of ISIS-K. Some of the detainees were released in December 2021, while the remaining detainees were released in July.
The Baha’is also faced abuse in the country and began concealing their religious identity.
Ethnic tensions continued to result in conflict and killings. Societal discrimination against Hazaras continued in the form of extortion of money through illegal taxation, forced recruitment and forced labor, physical abuse, and detention. There were many reports that Taliban fighters, ISIS-K members, and other unknown actors targeted and killed members of the Hazara community. ISIS-K claimed responsibility for at least 16 attacks against Hazaras that killed and injured more than 700 individuals, including attacks at mosques and schools in Hazara neighborhoods.
On April 22, ISIS-K bombed a mosque with Hazara worshippers and killed at least 33 and injured more than 43. A September 30 attack at the Kaaj Education Center in Dasht-e-Barchi Kabul, a Hazara neighborhood, killed at least 60 persons. Many Hazaras considered Taliban policies – marginalizing Hazara civil servants, heavily restricting the commemoration of Ashura – and Taliban failure to prevent violent ISIS-K attacks against their communities as a concerted effort to eradicate the Hazara community altogether.
Following his May visit to the country, the Special Rapporteur called for investigations into a series of attacks claimed by ISIS-K on places of worship and schools in Kabul, Kunduz, and Balkh Provinces. He said such attacks specifically targeting members of the Hazara, Shia, and Sufi communities were becoming increasingly systemic in nature and reflect elements of an organizational policy.
Sikhs and Hindus faced discrimination, reporting unequal access to government jobs, harassment in school, and verbal and physical abuse in public places. Most of the Sikh and Hindu community sought to depart the country. Religious representatives estimated that fewer than 100 Hindus and Sikhs remained. Only a small number of them desired to remain in the country, generally to care for their temples.
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
Birth Registration: A citizen father transmits citizenship to his child. Birth in the country or to a citizen mother alone does not bestow citizenship. Adoption is not legally recognized.
Education: Education is compulsory through the ninth grade, generally six to 15 years old. In March the Taliban announced secondary schools would remain closed to girls. This restriction directly and systematically excludes 1.1 million girls from secondary school. Despite this restriction, in April UNAMA assessed 25 percent of girls were attending secondary school across nine provinces of the 34 provinces. There was significant variability within the district and individual school level on how many girls attended secondary school. Poverty was a major factor suppressing enrollment across gender and grades. Additionally, there are reports that the Taliban converted some public school buildings into madrassahs.
On December 20, the Taliban issued an edict prohibiting female attendance of both public and private universities.
The United Nations verified 53 terrorist attacks on schools during the year.
Child Abuse: The law criminalizes child abuse and neglect, but the Taliban did not enforce the law. UNAMA recorded 441 child casualties (159 killed, 282 wounded) between August 2021 and June. Many of the casualties resulted from attacks on civilians and explosive remnants of war.
Children were frequently jailed alongside adults. The Taliban allowed continued operation of shelters for boys who were survivors or at risk of abuse or trafficking in persons, but not for girls.
Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage is 16 for girls, or 15 with the approval of their father or a judge. The legal minimum age for marriage for boys is 18. Child, early, and forced marriage was common across the country and was exacerbated by the economic crisis. A 2021 UNICEF study found that 28 percent of women ages 15 to 49 were married by age 18. In March UNICEF said that their implementing partners were reporting elevated rates of child marriage in cities, rural areas, and among internally displaced families.
There were reports of families accepting marriage proposals for their underage daughters to afford food for their other children. VOA interviewed a widow who accepted a marriage proposal on behalf of her daughter, age 14, to feed her other four children. The daughter’s husband, age 28, paid $2,300 for the daughter after pursuing her for months. Taliban spokesman Sadiq Akif told VOA that according to sharia, a girl can be ready for marriage once she reaches puberty.
There were also cases of girls being married young because of the systemic exclusion of girls from secondary education. A girl, age 17, from Ghor Province reported that her father ordered her to marry because she had no other life prospects (due to her exclusion from secondary school). A teacher from Sar-e-Paul Province reported that families were forcing their daughters to marry because they no longer saw another future for them. A woman with six children reported marrying off her daughter, age 13, to her neighbor, age 30, and was considering marrying off her other daughter, age 10, because it was the only way for them to provide for the family.
In December 2021, Taliban so-called supreme leader Hibatullah Akhundzada announced a public decree banning the forced marriage of women. The decree sets out the rules governing marriage and property for women, stating that women should not be forced into marriage and widows should have a share in their late husband’s property. The decree mandates that courts should consider these rules when making decisions, and religious affairs and information ministries should promote these rights.
Reports of child and forced marriages increased. Reported drivers included economic pressures, lack of educational and professional prospects for girls, and Taliban fighters forcing women and girls to marry them, which families tried to avoid by marrying their daughters at a younger age.
Societal pressures and the Taliban practice of arranging marriages for widows forced women into unwanted marriages.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The Taliban had long insisted that bacha bazi is against Islamic law; however, multiple human rights groups reported its prevalence in many parts of the country, including by Taliban members.
Institutionalized Children: There were no recent reports on the state of orphanages; however, there was a report of the Taliban detaining more than 10,000 beggars in October, 2,505 of whom were children. The Taliban categorized just over half of the children as entitled to beg, just under half as professional beggars, and 50 as orphans. There was no additional information on where the Taliban sent these children or if they arranged for adequate care.
There were no known reports of antisemitic acts. There are no confirmed Afghan Jews residing in the country.
Trafficking in Persons
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity or Expression, or Sex Characteristics
Criminalization: The Taliban criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual activity, and representatives routinely enforced this position through violence, intimidation, harassment, and targeted killings. Under sharia, conviction of same-sex sexual conduct is punishable by death, flogging, or imprisonment. Individual Taliban members made public statements reiterating that their interpretation of sharia includes the death penalty for homosexuality.
Violence against LGBTQI+ Persons: The Taliban takeover of the country increased fears of repression and violence among LGBTQI+ persons, with many individuals going into hiding to avoid being captured by the Taliban. Many fled the country after August 2021. LGBTQI+ persons faced increased threats, attacks, sexual assaults, and discrimination from Taliban members, strangers, neighbors, and family members.
OutRight International and HRW conducted interviews with 60 members of the LGBTQI+ community from October to December 2021. The interviewees reported being attacked, sexually assaulted, or directly threatened by members of the Taliban because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Others reported abuse from family members, neighbors, and romantic partners who supported the Taliban or believed they had to abuse LGBTQI+ persons close to them to ensure their own safety. Some LGBTQI+ persons fled their homes because of attacks by Taliban members or Taliban supporters pursuing them. LGBTQI+ persons reported that discrimination included sexual violence, child and forced marriages, physical violence from their families and others, expulsion from schools, blackmail, and nonconsensual outing. According to the interviews, Taliban members assaulted individuals at checkpoints for wearing clothes that did not conform to accepted gender norms and searched their cell phones and belongings for evidence that they were LGBTQI+. Two gay men reported they were raped or blackmailed into sex by Taliban members. Several interviewees reported that they knew of LGBTQI+ persons who had gone missing or were believed to have been killed.
In another example, a man had to pass through Taliban checkpoints to collect his paycheck from his former office. Armed Taliban fighters shouted a derogatory term for gay persons at him, hit his throat to silence him, and then punched him in the stomach and kicked him in the back. He was then loaded into a car and moved to a new location, where four men whipped him and then gang-raped him over the course of eight hours. When they released him, the Taliban members told him they would come for him again.
A woman who identified as a lesbian was reportedly discovered with her female partner before the Taliban takeover and was subjected to a forced marriage. Initially, when she refused to marry, Taliban soldiers beat her until she complied. After her marriage, someone told her new husband that she was a lesbian, leading to her husband reportedly beating her nearly every day.
A transgender woman was confronted by a group of more than 20 of her neighbors, who called her slurs while beating and stripping her. She was then kidnapped and detained by the Taliban for 10 days. While the Taliban detained her, they forced her to be naked, mocked her body, and beat her until she was covered with bruises and had a broken nose. Her head and eyebrows were roughly shaved, which created several cuts. She judged her injuries were meant as a warning for other members of the LGBTQI+ community.
In October it was reported that Hamed Sabouri, a gay medical student, age 22, was shot and killed by the Taliban. Sabouri’s execution was filmed by the Taliban, and the video was sent to members of his family and friends. Sabouri’s boyfriend was arrested by the Taliban twice and sexually assaulted while in prison. Upon escape, he went into hiding but served as part of the leadership of a collective for LGBTQI+ persons in the country. He told the media: “The Taliban didn’t only kill Hamed Sabouri. They buried the aspirations of 1,250 Afghan LGBTQ+ who are part of Behesht Collective and the hundreds of thousands of LGBTQ+ outside of our network who remain stuck in Afghanistan.”
There was no sufficient documentation of the killings of and violence against suspected LGBTQI+ persons because of stigmatization and fear of being identified through reporting. The by Outright International and HRW report noted the Taliban prohibited women from traveling without male relatives, so lesbians and bisexual women could not escape on their own, which forced them to stay in violent situations and restricted their ability to report abuses.
Discrimination: LGBTQI+ individuals reported facing arrest by Taliban police and militia as well as rampant discrimination, assault, and rape. There were reports of harassment and violence of LGBTQI+ individuals by society and police. Same-sex sexual conduct is widely viewed in the country’s culture as taboo and indecent. LGBTQI+ individuals did not have access to certain health-care services and could be fired from their jobs because of their perceived or expressed sexual orientation or gender identity.
Organizations assisting LGBTQI+ individuals said they had been contacted by hundreds of individuals seeking resettlement. Even if the option to settle internationally was available, LGBTQI+ persons faced additional barriers. Gender nonconforming individuals reported being afraid to go to the country’s passport office or passing through routine checkpoints on public roads due to fear of being identified by Taliban members.
Availability of Legal Gender Recognition: There is no legal pathway for transgender or gender nonconforming individuals to change their gender identity. According to local and regional medical experts, dozens of gender reassignment surgeries were performed before the Taliban takeover. One doctor, possibly the only in the country, who performed gender affirming surgeries for transgender persons before the Taliban takeover has been threatened by the Taliban and forced to cease providing this care.
Involuntary or Coercive Medical or Psychological Practices Specifically Targeting LGBTQI+ Individuals: The country’s culture insists on compulsory heterosexuality, which forced LGBTQI+ individuals to acquiesce to life-altering decisions made by family members or society. According to an OutRight Action International and HRW report, LGBTQI+ Afghans were often forced into child or arranged marriages by family members. Once married, LGBTQI+ individuals were under intense pressure from family members to have sex with their spouse and have children.
One gay man reported being asked repeatedly by his parents to perform ablutions after having sex with his wife, which he found “intrusive.” After finding it “hard to have sex with his spouse,” a doctor prescribed medicine to him. Another gay man, who was forced to marry at age 16, reported that his parents brought his wife to the city he had relocated to and forced them to have sex. A transgender woman reported that even before the Taliban takeover, she “had been brutally raped” for three days by men who vocalized their objection to the makeup and clothes she wore. Lesbian and bisexual women and transgender men also faced high levels of violence within marriage and were impacted by societal pressure to marry, but Outright and HRW reported that data was difficult to obtain due to the Taliban’s prohibitions on women and general fear of reprisal.
Restrictions of Freedom of Expression, Association, or Peaceful Assembly: LGBTQI+ individuals could not assemble, associate, or express themselves publicly due to fear of being killed, attacked, or outed by the Taliban. According to local LGBTQI+ individuals, the Taliban takeover “shattered” a hidden but present LGBTQI+ community. There were no legally registered LGBTQI+ rights organizations, and there were scant informal networks.
Persons with Disabilities
Persons with disabilities could not access education, health services, public buildings, and transportation on an equal basis with others. Persons with disabilities faced barriers such as limited access to educational opportunities, inability to access government buildings, difficulty in acquiring official identification required for many services, lack of economic opportunities, and social exclusion due to stigma.
HRW estimated that 90 percent of persons with disabilities were unemployed because of entrenched social biases and faced barriers to accessing public services, including health and education.