Rights groups decry Afghanistan 'virginity tests'

Afghan commission questions legitimacy of exam for women accused of adultery, as HRW describes tests as sexual abuse.

    Rights groups have repeatedly warned against the lack of basic rights for women in Afghanistan [AP]
    Rights groups have repeatedly warned against the lack of basic rights for women in Afghanistan [AP]

    The Independent Human Rights Commission of Afghanistan has voiced concern over "virginity tests" carried out on women or girls accused of sex outside marriage.

    The commission, known as the AIHRC, said females were forcibly subjected to the invasive vaginal and rectal tests after being accused of "moral crimes" by judiciary institutions.

    The results of the examinations were then used as evidence in the defendants' trials.

    The national institution interviewed 53 women and girls - some as young as 13, who had been accused of having sex outside marriage, which is punishable by up to 15 years in prison in the country.

    A large majority of them said they were forced into virginity tests by government doctors. Twenty of them were examined more than once.

    WATCH: Afghanistan - No country for women 

    The AIHRC also questioned the legitimacy of the methods used in the tests, saying they were being conducted without considering scientific inaccuracies and misinterpretations, as well as corruption in government institutions, and technical insufficiency that could affect the exams' results.

    'Bogus' tests

    Heather Barr, a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch's women's rights division, criticised the exams as "unscientific" and "bogus".

    "Many people mistakenly believe that virginity can be determined because the hymen is always broken when a woman or girl has sexual intercourse for the first time.

    "This is simply not true. Some girls are born without a hymen; hymens often break during daily non-sexual activities, and some hymens remain intact after sexual intercourse," Barr said.

    "Purported virginity examinations are so unreliable that the World Health Organization has said that they have no scientific validity and health workers should never conduct them."

    She also noted that "spurious" charges of sex outside marriage are often a form of punishment for women who fled forced marriages or domestic violence and called on the government to ban the "virginity tests".

    "Afghan President Ashraf Ghani could abolish these exams through an executive order. Recognising everyone's inherent dignity, respecting human rights, and appreciating real science over pseudo-science all demand he do so."

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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