U.N. says women's rights still widely violated in Afghanistan

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Kabul (dpa) - Despite considerable changes in the lives of Afghan women since the fall of extremist Taliban regime, violence against women remains widespread in war-torn Afghanistan, a U.N. official said Monday.

Speaking at a press conference after spending ten days in the southern province of Kandahar, the main stronghold of the Taliban's spiritual leader Mullah Mohammad Omar, the western province of Herat and other areas, Yakin Erturk, the U.N. Rapporteur on Afghanistan, criticized forced child marriages as the primary source of violence against women in Afghanistan.

"In addition to being in themselves serious forms of violence, forced and child marriages in combination with polygamy considerably increase the likelihood that women will be subjected to violence with the family, including sexual violence by significantly older males,'' she said.

"For the great majority of girls and women there is no alternative to enduring the violence,'' Erturk said. "Unaccompanied women have no place in the public space, and are automatically suspected of being engaged in sexual offences.''

If Afghan girls and women turn to police or the judiciary for protection and redress, they are likely to face abuse and be handed back to the abusive environment, she said.

"Many of the women in the prisons have run away from home and have been charged with adultery. Once a girl or woman has spent a night away from family control, this might constitute a dead end in her life,'' Erturk pointed out.

"Girls and women who escape a situation of domestic violence must not be returned to their families unless their safety can be really ensured,'' she said.

"The stigma attached thereto often makes her return impossible, as she is either refused or accepted only to face punishment, often death,'' she said.

Poverty, lack of education and the damage triggered by decades of conflict are often indicated as the prime causes for this state of affairs, she said.

"Giving little girls for bride money and exchanging daughters to settle disputes are just some pratices condemning girls to a life of despair,'' she added.

She also added that the lack of safety nets and systems of accountability has normalized the use of violence to enforce those practices.

To prevent violations against women in Afghanistan, Erturk said that the Afghan government should establish a criminal law that those involved in the organization of the "marriage'' of female children should be subject to prosecution and punishment.

She also urged the Afghan government and international community to recognize that sacrificing respect for human rights, in particular women's rights, to the claims of stability not only falls short of the United Nations founding principles, but is also politically shortsighted.

"Stability in Afghanistan can only be secured if the social fabric is rewoven from the grassroots,'' she said, adding that this in turn requires an end to the state of violence and impunity, of which the pervasive, intense violence experienced by Afghan women at all levels is a central but neglected element. dpa km jh

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