HRW wants Ghani administration to end virginity tests
Human Rights Watch (HRW) reminded President Ashraf Ghani of pledge to prevent the imprisonment of women accused of running away from their family. But Afghan police and prosecutors continued to engage in the abusive practice, it said.
Ghani’s promise to end the practice of arresting women and girls for ‘running away’ was an important step forward for women’s rights in Afghanistan,believed Heather Barr, senior women’s rights researcher at HRW.
“But to make a real difference, the president needs to issue a clear and binding order that immediately changes how every police officer and prosecutor handles complaints against women and girls,” he noted.
For too long, Barr said, women and girls fleeing violence had been treated as criminals while their abusers went scot-free. Female victims of violence must be protected by the legal system, the official stressed.
HRW estimated in 2013 half of all women in prison and about 95 percent of girls in juvenile detention in Afghanistan had been arrested on moral crime charges. In most cases, the accused fled forced child marriage or domestic violence.
In a March 2016 letter to President Ghani, the group outlined five steps the government should take to fully implement his commitment to end imprisonment of women who run away from their families.
The steps include reforming the law so that “moral crimes” are no longer grounds for arrest. Zina is currently a crime under the Afghan Penal Code and is punishable by five to 15 years in prison. “Running away” is not a crime, but police and prosecutors often treat it as an offense.
The government was urged to ban all use of virginity examinations. At present, women and girls accused of moral crimesare routinely subjected to invasive vaginal and rectal examinations by government doctors, according to HRW.
The 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.
According to the HRW statement, the 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 WHO has said that they have no scientific validity and health workers should never conduct them.”
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