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Afghan females imprisoned for 'moral crimes,' Human Rights Watch says

By Sara Sidner and Mitra Mobasherat, CNN
March 28, 2012 -- Updated 2055 GMT (0455 HKT)
Gulnaz, freed from jail, was sentenced to 12 years in prison for adultery after a relative raped her.
Gulnaz, freed from jail, was sentenced to 12 years in prison for adultery after a relative raped her.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Running away from home without a man's permission can put a juvenile female in jail
  • Zina -- having sex with someone other than a husband -- is also a common charge
  • Human Rights Watch says many of the imprisoned women were running away from abuse
  • The judicial system "is simply not supporting women," an Afghan legislator says

Kabul, Afghanistan (CNN) -- A person allowed to enter a juvenile detention center for girls in Afghanistan would find one strikingly sad story after another, according to Human Rights Watch.

Nearly all of the girls imprisoned in Afghanistan are behind bars for "moral crimes," as are about half of adult women, a new report from the international watchdog group says.

The arrests are often based on two actions considered criminal behavior. One is running away from home without the permission of their father or husband; the other is called Zina, having sex with anyone other than a husband.

"Very often you see women have been charged with both things -- with running away and with Zina. And when you dig a bit deeper and you talk to the women about what actually happened, what you find out is that ... a large majority of these cases are cases where women have actually run away from abuse," Heather Barr of Human Rights Watch Afghanistan told CNN.

"They've run away because they were about to be forced into a marriage against their will or they've run away because they've actually been married and they are experiencing abuse in the home from their husband or their in-laws."

U.S soldier died saving Afghan girl

In 2011, CNN highlighted a case in point. A woman named Gulnaz was jailed and sentenced to 12 years in prison after reporting she was raped by her cousin's husband. Her daughter was the product of the rape. Gulnaz's plight attracted international attention and she was freed when President Hamid Karzai intervened.

But some women's rights activists say she will never be accepted into the community because of the way women are thought of in parts of Afghanistan.

"Women are passing away the best years of their lives inside prison, their children as well," Shurkria Barakzai, a member of Afghanistan's National Assembly, told CNN. "To be honest, they do not have a future going back into the community. Their husbands will not accept them back and neither will their families or members of the community."

Barakzai said she is disappointed in the Afghan judicial system when it comes to its treatment of women.

"Our laws are quite equal for men and women, but men have the means to pay bribe money, run away from home, (or) ask others for help to get out of a situation," she said.

Barakzai is well aware that even being a female in a position of power cannot save a person from danger. Threats and intimidation have occurred against women in politics, mostly because they are women.

"I blame the judicial system, the judges, and the system as a whole before anything else," she said. "The system is simply not supporting women, and until they do, these so-called 'crimes' against women will continue and we will only slip back into what we were 10 years ago."

Human Rights Watch says about 400 women currently are imprisoned in Afghanistan for "moral crimes."

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