Afghanistan: Customary Laws Foster High Rates of Violence Against Women

Traditional Afghan laws and customs remain entrenched across the country, fostering a culture of violence against women in Afghanistan and a high prevalence of “honor” killings. According to the Afghan Women’s Network, an estimated 150 women are killed in Afghanistan every year in the name of “honor.”  Honor killings occur when a woman's family members kill her because they believe she “dishonored” the family in some way, often becuase she refused a forced marriage.
The "classic Islamic code of Shariah" and Western-influenced civil legislation in Afghanistan criminalize or discourage forced marriage and honor killings. However, rates of violence against women remain high in Afghanistan. The Afghan Women's Ministry found that only 10% of the 4,505 reported incidents of violence against women last year were "resolved through legal process." Under unwritten Afghan customary laws or tribal codes, women have fewer rights than Shariah and Afghan civil laws grant them, and they have significantly less power than men. For example, under Afghan tribal laws, a girl’s father has complete control over her, until he transfers this control to another man through marriage, a decision he can make at any time and without the girl’s consent. Additionally, if a girl tries to flee an arranged marriage, customary law dictates she can be prosecuted for running away and charged with a year of jail time. Unmarried women traveling alone can be arrested and subjected to "virginity" tests.
Many judges are poorly educated and lack any formal legal training, making it difficult to change the way the Afghan legal system handles violence against women. According to a law professor at Kabul University, Shala Fareed, "In Afghanistan, judges stick to customary law, forget Shariah law, let alone civil law."
Compiled from: Nordland, Rod, In Spite of the Law, Afghan ‘Honor Killings’ of Women Continue, The New York Times (May 3, 2014)