NEW DELHI, Sept 19 (TrustLaw) - Almost 500 women and girls currently incarcerated in Afghanistan's jails for "running away" from forced marriages and violence under an ambigious and arbitary law must be freed, Human Rights Watch said on Wednesday.
Up to 70 percent of Afghanistan's 700 female prisoners are languishing in jails simply because they fled after being forced into marriage or were victims of domestic violence, according to the human rights group.
"The public pledges by top Afghan government officials (on Sunday) to end wrongful imprisonment of women and girls fleeing abuse sends an important message of equal rights for women," said Brad Adams, HRW's Asia director, in a statement.
"Now the onus is on President (Hamid) Karzai and his government to promptly free the women and girls who have lost months or years of their lives on these bogus charges."
The HRW statement comes just days after three senior Afghan officials -- Justice Minister Habibullah Ghalib, Women’s Affairs Minister Hassan Banoo Ghazanfar, and Deputy Interior Minister Baz Mohammad Yarmand -- condemned charging women and girls for "running away" under the country's "moral crimes" law.
According to a HRW report in March, research from six prisons and juvenile detention centres found that 50 percent of women in prison and some 95 percent of girls in juvenile detention are accused of such "moral crimes".
While releasing these women and girls would be the first step, said HRW, the women still need support when they are freed as many are at risk of murder in so-called "honour killings" at the hands of their families for bringing shame.
Adams called for on the government to do more to protect such women and girls.
"Afghanistan’s shelters save the lives of women every day," Adams said. "The Afghan government and international donors should work together to ensure that every Afghan woman and girl facing abuse or death has easy access to a safe shelter."