Afghanistan: End ‘Moral Crimes’ Charges, ‘Virginity’ Tests

22 October, 2019

Extracts below. Full text here:


(Kabul) – Afghanistan’s government should urgently act to end wrongful imprisonment and humiliating, scientifically invalid “virginity exams” of women and girls, Human Rights Watch said today. Despite a pledge from President Ashraf Ghani in a February 2016 letter to Human Rights Watch to “prevent the imprisonment of women accused of running away from their family,” Afghan police and prosecutors continue to engage in the abusive practice...

In Afghanistan today, hundreds of women and girls are imprisoned on charges of “moral crimes,” Human Rights Watch said. These so-called crimes include “running away” from home, and committing or attempting to commit zina, or having sex outside of marriage. Human Rights Watch estimated in 2013 that half of all women in prison and about 95 percent of girls in juvenile detention in Afghanistan have been arrested on “moral crimes” charges. Human Rights Watch research found that in most cases, the women and girls accused of these “crimes” were fleeing forced child marriage or domestic violence. In some cases, women and girls who have been raped were charged with zina, alongside their rapist... Zina is currently a crime under the Afghan Penal Code and is punishable by five to 15 years in prison...

Human Rights Watch also called on the government to ban all use of “virginity examinations.” At present, women and girls accused of “moral crimes” are routinely subjected to invasive vaginal and rectal examinations by government doctors. These examinations purport to provide information regarding whether the woman or girl is a “virgin” and whether she recently or habitually engaged in sexual intercourse. Reports describing these findings are used in criminal prosecutions and frequently contribute to convictions and long sentences for women and girls found guilty of “moral crimes.”

In reality, so-called “virginity tests” have no scientific validity. Their use is based on the mistaken belief that “virginity” can be determined by examining a woman or girl’s hymen to determine whether it has been broken during sexual intercourse. In fact, some girls are born without a hymen, hymens often break during daily non-sexual activities, and some hymens remain intact after sexual intercourse. These factors make “virginity examinations” so unreliable that the World Health Organization has said that they have no scientific validity and health workers should never conduct them.

“President Ghani can end the abusive and unscientific use of ‘virginity exams’ with the stroke of a pen,” [Heather Barr, senior women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch] said. “It’s well past time he did so.”


Best wishes, Neil

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