The Paywand Afghan Association (PAA) on Tuesday released its report on the Afghan Women Penal System in a bid to "bring the failures of the women's penal system in Afghanistan, an issue that has long been ignored, to the attention of key stakeholders including the Afghan government and the international community."
In releasing their report, they said their research attempts to provide a descriptive analysis of the existing laws and policies that effect women's lives in the women's penal system and prisons.
"In addition, it attempts to shed light on the current situation of female prisoners in Afghanistan, while trying to show the existing situation of current incarcerated women in five prisons of Afghanistan," read their report.
Policewoman stands outside female prison in Afghanistan. (Photo: TOLOnews.com)
The report however, painted a bleak picture of the plight of women in prisons – and in fact warned: "Most of the text does not make for happy reading. And, it is important to recognize that despite the disparities, many agencies receiving funds for women's issues have ignored women's situation within the penal system. Women's legal rights should no longer be ignored."
The said: "This report is a call for more attention. It is to urge you to carefully consider the messages found herein, and to join us in finding solutions for the problems discussed in this report."
The PAA found that the international community has spent millions of dollars on the rehabilitation of the justice system since 2001, and the assurance of women rights and human rights have been one of the top priorities of the Afghan government and International Community.
"However, prisoners' rights and the issue of their re-entry into society - generally of all the prisoners, but more specifically of the female population - has been utterly neglected."
The report stated that according to the International Center for Prisons Studies, the total number of prisoners including pre-trial detainees/remand prisoners in Afghanistan in 2012 was 25,289, of which 7,365 were female pre-trial detainees and 854 were female prisoners.
There are 34 provincial prisons, 187 district detention centers, and 30 juvenile rehabilitation centers – all of which are in a poor condition, read their report.
"Moreover, the prisons and detention centers that were designed for men, are now also accommodating women prisoners along with their children. The problems of female prisoners inside of these prisons and centers, as well as the issue of their re-entry into society after their incarceration is rarely discussed in the media, civil society, or at the government level."
The report states that the Afghan government passed the law on prisons and detention centers in 2007 but except for Article 9, which is about keeping male prisoners separate from female prisoners, there is no mention of distinguishing female prisons from males.
"The only source that one can specifically refer to, in regards to female prisoners, is the Policy of Female Prisoners' Access to Justice, which was approved by the Afghan Cabinet in 2010. The main purpose of this policy is to improve female prisoners' conditions, and to ensure their access to justice.
"Although, this policy provides female prisoners with health care, education, and work, and although their access to justice is emphasized, nothing has been mentioned about their lives, and those of their children's, after imprisonment. In addition, the policy, with all of its shortcomings, is still keptsecretly and out of access of any institution by the Ministry of Women's Affairs (MoWA)," read the report.
"Neither the Ministry of Justice, Supreme Court, and prison officials, nor the prisoners are aware of having such a policy, even though the policy is short and easily implementable."
The PAA reported that 68 percent of women inmates interviewed said they were not given any information about their rights. In addition, no one told them that they could have access to defense lawyers, which would be provided by the state, and that they have the right to remain silent.
The other 32 percent expressed that they got some information from women's affairs directorates.
However, these women were not able to have defense lawyers until their first hearing in court.
Most respondents said they had only met their attorneys during their case investigation, and they were not told that they have rights to have an advocate.
"In prisons the police, prosecutors and prison guards give the accused persons general information about their rights and rules," stated the report adding that "sometimes victims and police are not literate enough to know and understand the civil rights and rules. Therefore, the basic information they get from police and guards is not enough."
The report stated that the lack of defense lawyers is another shortcoming for women in prison. One of the reasons is that the state defense lawyers are paid very poorly, and therefore most of them do not take their cases seriously, read the report.
Secondly, because most of the government defense lawyers are male, women prisoners do not feel comfortable discussing their cases with male defense lawyers openly, mainly due to cultural taboos.
The report went on to state that 74 percent of respondents were taken to the police station after being accused of their offences. Most of them were kept there for more than two weeks. It was found that most of the women in prison did not know that the police cannot keep them in detention for more than 24 hours.
The other 19 percent of inmates were taken directly to prison. Many different reasons were given for the delay.
"It is evident that female prisoners are deprived of legal resources mainly because they do not have enough information about the legal procedures and laws," read the report.
Crimes, the report stated, were classified into three sections - 1) moral crimes, 2) escaping from home, and 3) murder of family members.
However, the PAA has made a number of recommendations with regards to improving conditions for women prisoners.
They called on government to implement the women prison policy developed six years ago but that was not budgeted for; that government invest in research projects for re-entry into society of women prisoners; that government with the help of donor programs invests in mandatory literacy classes for women prisoners and that vocational courses are provided.
In addition, the PAA called on government to establish systems to decrease corruption in courts, police stations, and attorney general's offices; that government must start urgent monitoring and evaluation systems for the justice sector to de-institutionalize corruption; increase the number of female defense lawyers and increase the salaries of defense lawyers.
Also, they called for legal rights awareness campaigns for women prisoners; for the provision of safe shelters for women once they have been released from prison. Also that mental health issues faced by these women are addressed and that childcare facilities are provided for the children.
In conclusion, the PAA said: "We call on all stakeholders to create a shared vision and action plan to take the recommendations of this report forward, based on the robust data and evidence that is needed to underpin the need to take the women penal system as one of the priorities of the government action plans for change. This call to action is to address government and political leaders, businesses, civil society activists and nongovernmental organizations, and to youth of this country and women themselves. We also call on the international community to meet the commitments it has made to work towards Afghan women's empowerment."
To read the full report click here.