The number of Afghan women and girls jailed for fleeing sexual abuse, domestic, violence and forced marriage has increased dramatically, according to new official figures.
Statistics obtained from Afghanistan's Interior Ministry by the campaign group Human Rights Watch reveal the number of women and girls convicted of 'moral crimes,' which include running away from home has increased by 50 per cent in the last year from 400 to 600.
Many of the 600 women jailed in the last year are victims of sexual assault and domestic abuse whose only crime was to run away from their assailants, the group said.
It called on the Afghan government to enforce its own Elimination of Violence Against Women (EVAW), and to stop its judges punishing female victims.
Although it is not a crime in Afghanistan for women to run away, the group said the country's judges, including members of its Supreme Court, regard women who run away from their homes as criminals. Many of them who flee rapes and other assaults have been charged with seeking sex outside marriage, known as Zina in Afghanistan.
Those jailed for Zina include women and girls who have been raped or forced into prostitution, the group said.
Earlier this year Human Rights Watch released its report I had to Run Away, which revealed that half of all women and 95 per cent of girls in Afghan jails had been convicted of 'moral crimes' of running away or sex outside marriage.
A report by Oxfam found that 87 per cent of Afghan women had suffered sexual and physical abuse and been forced into unwanted marriages.
Earlier this year a 22 year old woman, Gulnaz, who was jailed for Zina after she was raped and impregnated by her cousin's husband decided to marry her attacker to spare her daughter the stigma of being born out of wedlock. She had been 'pardoned' for her crime by President Karzai and released following an international outcry.
"Four years after the adoption of a law on violence against women and twelve years after Taliban rule, women are still imprisoned for being victims of forced marriage, domestic violence, and rape. The Afghan government needs to get tough on abusers of women, and stop blaming women who are crime victims," said Brad Adams, Asia director of Human Rights Watch.
The group called on President Karzai to issue a decree clarifying that 'running away' is not a crime and other crimes, like Zina should not be used to punish runaways.
The 2009 Elimination of Violence Against Women law, which was inctroduced by a presidential decree, has yet to be passed by the Afghan parliament which voiced its opposition once again on Saturday. Islamic conservatives in the parliament are opposed to provisions which make it illegal for a father to stop his daughter marrying a man of her choice.
They also oppose for women who have fled sexual abuse and violence and claim they are 'immoral' houses of prostitution and casual sex. Some support amendments which would legalise forced and child marriages and domestic assaults in some circumstances.
Last year just over one in five of 470 violence against women cases resulted in conviction.