KABUL, Afghanistan — Afghan women are frequent victims of abuse, despite some success by authorities in prosecuting rape cases, forced marriages and domestic violence under a 3-year-old law, according to a report issued Tuesday by the United Nations.
The report came out a day after gunmen shot and killed the head of the women’s affairs department for eastern Laghman province. Afghan officials said Najia Sediqi, who took the job after her predecessor was killed in a bomb attack in July, was on her way to her office when she was shot dead.
Afghanistan enacted its Elimination of Violence Against Women law in August 2009. It criminalizes child marriage, selling and buying women to settle disputes, assault and more than a dozen other acts of violence and abuse against women.
The U.N. collected information from 22 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces during a 12-month period ending in September to find out how well the law was being implemented.
“Although prosecutors and courts were increasingly applying the law in a growing number of reported incidents, the overall use of the law remained low, indicating there is still a long way to go before women and girls in Afghanistan are fully protected from violence through the law,” the report said.
Incidents of violence against women remain largely under-reported because of cultural restraints, social norms and religious beliefs, according to the report.
It was filled with anecdotal evidence of abuse.
A prosecutor in a district of northern Kunduz province told the U.N. researchers, “A woman by the name of Storay was strangled and killed by her husband because of domestic violence and giving birth to female children and not male children.”
A married 15-year-old girl from western Heart province said, “My husband and my father-in-law beat me without any reason several times. The repeated mistreatment had forced me to complain, but (it was) all in vain as the prosecutor overlooked my petition and warned me to either withdraw the complaint or face imprisonment.”
A 10-year-old third grader from eastern Baghlan province was quoted in the report as saying, “My uncle intends to marry me with his son for my property that I inherited from my late father, but I don’t want a husband. Rather I want to pursue my education and live with my mother.”
Widespread discrimination and women’s fears of social stigma or threats to their lives discourage them from seeking to prosecute their offenders.
“We are calling on the Afghan authorities to take, of course, much greater steps to both facilitate reporting of incidents of violence against women and actually open investigations and take on prosecutions,” Georgette Gagnon, human rights director for the U.N. in Afghanistan, told reporters at a news conference in the Afghan capital, Kabul.
A rising number of incidents of violence against women are being reported, and courts are issuing more convictions based on the law, but they represent only a fraction of the problem.
The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights commission recorded more than 4,000 cases of violence against women from March 21 to October 21, but most were not reported to police. In contrast, during the 12-month period that the U.N. reviewed, police and prosecutors in the provinces recorded only 470 incidents.
Indictments were filed in 163 of the cases, or about 35 percent, the report said. Only 72 of the indictments were based on violations of the Elimination of Violence Against Women law. But of those, more than 70 percent resulted in convictions, the report said.
“While advances in using the law are welcome, progress in addressing violence against women will be limited until the law is applied more widely,” Gagnon said.
Though Afghan girls and women continue to suffer, there are signs that views on women’s rights could be slowly changing, at least in the capital.
In July, dozens of women – and men – took to the streets of Kabul to protest the public killing of an Afghan woman accused of adultery. A video of her gruesome, execution-style killing showed the woman being shot multiple times in Parwan province, north of the Afghan capital, as people stood nearby, smiling and cheering.
The protesters marched from the Afghan Ministry of Women’s Affairs to a traffic circle near a U.N. compound, and some shouted, “Death to those who did this act!”