Canada report highlights Afghan rape, immolation

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* Rape under-reported but more victims coming forward

* Women try to burn themselves to escape misery

OTTAWA, Jan 8 (Reuters) - Rape occurs all too often in Afghanistan and is under-reported, but more victims are agreeing to report the incidents, a Canadian government report on Afghan human rights has concluded.

"Rape is widely believed to be a frequent occurrence, though its true extent is concealed by under-reporting owing to the social stigma attached to it," stated the 2008 report, publicized on Thursday.

"There does, however, appear to be signs of increasing willingness on the part of victims to report rape, and on the part of the authorities to investigate and prosecute some cases."

It cited President Hamid Karzai's call in 2008 for rapists "to face the country's most severe punishment," following a public outcry after a 12-year-old girl was raped in Sari Pul province.

The report, released after an Access to Information request by the Canadian Press, said self-immolation by women is increasingly being used "to escape their dire circumstances".

In Herat, it cited the head of the provincial hospital's burn unit as saying 80 women tried to burn themselves in 2008, many of whom died.

It said the British-based group Womankind had determined that 87 percent of Afghan women complained of being victims of violence, half of it sexual. It said more than half of marriages involve girls under 16.

On a positive note, it said that the number of girls in school had gone from near zero during Taliban rule to 2 million now, and total school enrollment had risen to 6 million from 1 million.

Canada has had troops in Afghanistan since 2002 and currently has 2,800 soldiers there.

(Reporting by Randall Palmer; editing by Peter Galloway)

Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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