Afghanistan: New Report Documents Harmful Traditional Practices

A new report jointly published by the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA HR) and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) details widespread harmful traditional practices suffered by girls and women. Included in the harmful practices cited are violations of human rights as child marriage, forced marriage, giving away girls as a form of dispute resolution, and honor killings. The study found these practices to be prevalent within all communities and across regions.

The report notes that religious leaders and community authorities have at times played a part in perpetuating these practices, despite the fact that these practices are contrary to both Afghan law and Sharia religious rulings.

Newly-enacted legislation, the Law on Elimination of Violence Against Women (EVAW), could greatly reduce the scope of harmful traditional practices if fully implemented. The report recommends expediting implementation of the law, despite finding it incomplete. In particular, the study finds EVAW flawed in that it fails to criminalize crimes based on honor, does not clearly define rape, and requires victims to initiate or maintain judicial action.

Currently, the report found that law enforcement entities are often unwilling to apply laws like EVAW that promote women’s rights and frequently apply such laws selectively. This tendency may be greater when women are perceived to have violated social norms, as is demonstrated by the fact that half of the female prison population is being held on the basis of “moral crimes.”

Along with full implementation of EVAW, the report also calls for religious leaders to speak out in support of women’s rights. Some religious leaders have already taken action in this direction; 15 ulema members in Jalalabad unanimously declared their intent to raise awareness regarding harmful practices on International Women’s Day. In addition, the report finds that a number of religious authorities have denounced the practices of exchange marriage and high bride price. 

Compiled from: Harmful Traditional Practices and Implementation of the Law on Elimination of Violence Against Women in Afghanistan, Sexual Violence Research Initiative, (31 December 2010).