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Salem-News.com, February 28, 2010

The Plight of Afghan Women in Prison

This is a story about the women and children of Badam Bagh, the only women’s prison in Kabul.

Tim King

(KABUL) - Their day starts with a song followed by play and learning time in this bright and spacious classroom. There are more than 70 boys and girls here at any given time. The youngest only a few months old.

Children in Badam Bagh Prison
Children of women incarcerated for things like leaving their husbands, and refusing arranged marriages. (Photo: UNTV)

While the little ones play, the older children practice their reading and writing, and work on their math and art. Their drawings decorate the walls and if it weren’t for the bars on the windows, this would be like any other kindergarten. Except, this is a prison.

Torpekai is a teacher here: “This kindergarten belongs to Badam Bagh female prison.”

Torpekai is the only teacher here and while she’s happy with the facilities, and the materials that she has, she thinks prison is no place for children.

Torpekai, teacher: “The children are stressed most of the time and they cannot learn quickly. They have a lot of learning difficulties.”

This is a story about the women and children of Badam Bagh, the only women’s prison in Kabul. It is home to some 90 inmates, many of them mothers. Eighteen-year-old Krishma is one of them.

Krishma, inmate: “It’s difficult to take care of a child in prison. If you have somebody at home, it’s better for a child to stay with a family member than in jail. They don’t learn manners here.”

But Badam Bagh is an improvement for Krishma and her young daughter. Just two years ago, they lived in the female section of Pol-e-Charkhi, the notorious Afghan jail. With no special provisions for mothers with children, Krishma and her baby lived in terrible conditions not far from convicted criminals.

Recognizing the special needs of female prisoners and their children, the UN Drugs and Crime Office, UNODC, with the financial support of the Italian government built this women-only prison.

In Badam Bagh, women spend their days doing productive work, like sewing and embroidery. They learn new skills, including computers.

Krishma has been found guilty of murder and sentenced to 16 years in prison for a crime she says she didn’t commit.

Krishma, inmate: “My friend’s father was killed. When I went to their house, the house was broken into and the burglar killed my friend’s father. But they arrested me for the murder.”

Krishma was lucky to have had two court appearances. Now, an appointed defender is fighting her conviction. With no family to care for the child, she’s not sure what the future holds for her daughter.

Krishma, inmate: “My lawyer is appealing the conviction. He’s trying to get me out of here. If I’m released then my daughter will be with me but if not then I will send her to an orphanage.”

“The main problem is that the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs is not accepting the children of prisoners into the orphanage.”

Zarafshana is the prison Director here.

Zarafshana, Director, Badam Bagh prison: “A child should not go to school in a prison environment. The child has not committed the crime, the mother did!”

According to the law, children under three can stay with their mothers in prison. Those between three and seven are to be placed in special facilities adjacent to the prison. Older children, however, should be integrated into regular schools in the city.

But the reality is that many of these children have no other place to live or no one to care for them. Even if they do, experts say that the separation from their mothers due to imprisonment has a traumatic and long-term effect on both.

Another young inmate at Badam Bagh, Fawzia, has seven children. She has decided against bringing them here. They live with their father and an aunt.

Fawzia, inmate: “I can’t keep my children in prison… There is a kindergarten, but the discipline they get here is not the same as outside. I am a mother; I do not want to keep them in jail.”

But why is Fawzia in prison? She is charged with leaving her husband’s house after an argument.

Fawzia, inmate: “It’s been two months since my arrest. I’m in here because after my husband had hit me, I got angry so I left my house and went to stay with my sister-in-law.”

Because Fawzia’s nephew went to speak to her husband on her behalf, both Fawzia and the nephew were charged with adultery.

Michael Hartmann is a criminal justice advisor with the United Nations Office for Drugs and Crime (UNODC): “Adultery is a crime. Now what’s unusual here is that the crime is punished quite severely.”

Hartman is UNODC’s criminal justice advisor in Kabul.

“Article 4-27 of the penal code says: ‘A person who commits adultery shall be sentenced to long imprisonment.’ Long imprisonment is five years to fifteen years.”

Fawzia’s crime has not been proven, but she was sentenced to three years in prison based on the prosecutor’s claim.

Fawzia, inmate: “The prosecutor told my husband that if you do not give me money, I will write adultery in your wife’s case.”

Fawzia says the same prosecutor is now in jail himself for taking bribes and making false accusations.

Most women in Afghanistan have little knowledge about their constitutional rights and no access to justice. In another country, Fawzia and many of the women here would not even be in jail. They would be considered victims rather than perpetrators.

Members of Afghanistan parliament accuse some officials of Pul-e-Charkhi prison in Kabul for raping women prisoners. A delegation of Afghan parliamentarians who recently visited the prison say some women become pregnant after being raped.
BBC Persian, Nov.14, 2007

But after three decades of war, the extreme Islamic policies towards women have had a devastating impact on them.

Today, amid renewed attacks by the Taliban and rampant corruption the women of Afghanistan are still struggling to get justice.

Justice for young women like Wagas who was engaged to be married to a man she didn’t like. Instead, she ran away from her father’s house with a boy she was in love with.

Wagas is an inmate: “After two days we had a fight and my boyfriend kicked me out of his house. He said ‘I don’t need you.’”

Both Wagas and her boyfriend were accused of adultery.

“Adultery is considered not just when married people have sex, but when unmarried people have sex. That’s their definition of adultery. And that would be, I think, what you’re considering, when you talk about a moral crime.”

According to Afghanistan’s constitution, no deed is considered a crime unless made a crime by a law before the commitment of the offence.

“What happens, unfortunately, is that there are certain crimes which are part of the Sharia, which for the West you might call it like the common law. It’s out there. It’s part of the principles. But it’s not written down yet. And that Sharia law, unfortunately, and I say this from my cultural perspective, is enforced here.”

As a sign of positive change, the Afghan government now recognizes the special needs of women prisoners. One of the major improvements has been employing female guards. But the issue of having children here remains. Like their mothers, they too, await their destiny behind bars.

Tim King is a former U.S. Marine with twenty years of experience on the west coast as a television news producer, photojournalist, reporter and assignment editor. In addition to his role as a war correspondent, this Los Angeles native serves as Salem-News.com's Executive News Editor. You can send Tim an email at this address: newsroom@salem-news.com

This story was originally published on Salem-News.com on Feb.24, 2010

Category: Women, Children, HR Violations - Views: 15978