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UN: Despite law, Afghan women still suffer abuse

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Afghan women are frequent victims of abuse, despite some success by authorities in prosecuting rape cases, forced marriages and domestic violence under a 3-year-old law, according to a report issued Tuesday by the United Nations.

The report came out a day after gunmen shot and killed the head of the women’s affairs department for eastern Laghman province. Afghan officials said Najia Sediqi, who took the job after her predecessor was killed in a bomb attack in July, was on her way to her office when she was shot dead.

Afghanistan enacted its Elimination of Violence Against Women law in August 2009. It criminalizes child marriage, selling and buying women to settle disputes, assault and more than a dozen other acts of violence and abuse against women.

The U.N. collected information from 22 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces during a 12-month period ending in September to find out how well the law was being implemented.

“Although prosecutors and courts were increasingly applying the law in a growing number of reported incidents, the overall use of the law remained low, indicating there is still a long way to go before women and girls in Afghanistan are fully protected from violence through the law,” the report said.

Incidents of violence against women remain largely under-reported because of cultural restraints, social norms and religious beliefs, according to the report.

It was filled with anecdotal evidence of abuse.

A prosecutor in a district of northern Kunduz province told the U.N. researchers, “A woman by the name of Storay was strangled and killed by her husband because of domestic violence and giving birth to female children and not male children.”

A married 15-year-old girl from western Heart province said, “My husband and my father-in-law beat me without any reason several times. The repeated mistreatment had forced me to complain, but (it was) all in vain as the prosecutor overlooked my petition and warned me to either withdraw the complaint or face imprisonment.”

A 10-year-old third grader from eastern Baghlan province was quoted in the report as saying, “My uncle intends to marry me with his son for my property that I inherited from my late father, but I don’t want a husband. Rather I want to pursue my education and live with my mother.”

Widespread discrimination and women’s fears of social stigma or threats to their lives discourage them from seeking to prosecute their offenders.

A rising number of incidents of violence against women are being reported, and courts are issuing more convictions based on the law, but they represent only a fraction of the problem.

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