Building Alternatives: Supporting Afghan Women & Children in Conflict with the Law

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The Afghan justice system has since 2018 provided for both Alternatives to Detention (AtDs) and Alternatives to Incarceration (AtIs). However, to date there is very limited data on the impacts of the use of AtIs and AtDs, the challenges to their implementation, and how these may be impacting the rehabilitation and reintegration of women and children in conflict with the law (WICWTL and CICWTL). Past research has made clear that detention or incarceration remains the first and most common option for sentencing in the Afghan justice system, and has also shown the range of negative physical, mental and social impacts which this detention or incarceration has on the children and women concerned. This highlights a critical need for increased use of alternatives to detention and incarceration to help to avoid such negative impacts.

In response to these challenges, Children in Crisis (CiC) implemented the ”Support to Afghan Women and Children in Conflict with the Law: Diversion, Rehabilitation and Reintegration” project, which sought to address the major structural barriers to the implementation of the Alternatives to Detention (AtD) and Alternatives to Incarceration (AtI) measures added to the Afghan Penal Code, and to contribute to the growing evidence base for positive outcomes in reintegration, rehabilitation and recidivism.

Specifically, this research aimed to collect, assess, and consolidate data regarding Afghan justice system services, identify research gaps to be filled in addressing the needs of women and children in conflict with the law in the Afghan context, and provide strategic recommendations.

This research report highlights the depth and breadth of the challenges facing the Afghan justice system both in terms of utilising alternatives to detention and incarceration, and in the system more broadly. It also demonstrates the value of these approaches despite these challenges – in line with research worldwide on how alternatives to detention can facilitate positive impacts for persons in conflict with the law in terms of rehabilitation and reintegration.

Alternatives to detention and incarceration are a critical step to protect child rights and create better outcomes for women and children in conflict with the law. In the Afghan context as in others, they can have great positive impacts at individual, community and societal levels. Research was conducted over nearly a year with a range of participants including justice sector actors and experts as well as CICWTL and WICWTL and their families and communities:

  • Participants repeatedly emphasised how positive AtDs and AtIs had been for them, allowing them to stay at home, work or continue school, avoid community stigma, and rely on the support of family in close proximity.

  • They further underlined that AtDs and AtIs reduce or avoid exposure to detention or incarceration which can be distressing and harmful in many ways for children in particular, and poses a variety of risks including (child) protection concerns.

  • Overall, while it was clear that rehabilitation and reintegration programming does offer important support to CICWTL and WICWTL, alternatives to detention and incarceration provide a greater benefit that was highlighted not only by the participants who had experienced them and their families, but also by the contrast between their experiences and those of respondents who had experienced detention or incarceration.

  • Rehabilitation and reintegration programmes may mitigate some of the negative impacts of detention and incarceration – but alternatives to detention and incarceration provide a means to avoid them altogether.

Based on these findings, this report strongly recommends continued commitment to implementing alternatives to detention for women and children in conflict with the law.

Specific recommendations include improving resourcing and funding; raising awareness and educating children, families and communities; improving legal frameworks and justice sector capacity; and continuing to grow the evidence base on the needs and experiences of WICWTL and CICWTL in Afghanistan and the impacts on outcomes for these groups that AtDs and AtIs may facilitate. This requires concerted efforts from Afghan government, including financial and other resources, as well as ongoing support from non-governmental organisations, civil society and the international community to advocate, advise and support through programming,