HRW expresses concerns over ‘humiliating’ virginity test

Afghanistan, March 1, 2016 – Afghanistan Times

KABUL: The Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported that each year dozens or even hundreds of women and girls in Afghanistan are subjected to invasive, humiliating, and sometimes painful vaginal and rectal exams in the name of “science.”

According to HRW, these so-called virginity exams are not just demeaning—they constitute sexual assault and are often used as evidence against women in court for the crime of rape “zina” or sex outside of marriage.

The HRW had recently took the brain of 53 women and girls as young as 13 years old who had been accused of zina, an act punishable by up to 15 years in prison.

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Forty-eight of these interviewed women and girls had been sent for “virginity exams” performed by government doctors.

Based on the report, twenty of them were examined more than once – up to four times in a couple of cases. A woman said that there were six people in the room watching the examination.

Doctors write reports based on these examinations, and they are used as evidence in courts hearing the “moral crime” accusation against a woman or girl.

These reports often draw conclusions on whether a woman or girl is a “virgin,” and whether she recently or habitually engaged in sexual intercourse, it added.

“Virginity exams” are 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, the report said, adding that 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.

Furthermore it suggested that purported virginity exams are so unreliable that the World Health Organization has said that they have no scientific validity and health workers should never conduct them.

The report further said that the continued use of degrading and unscientific “virginity exams” by the Afghan government is part of a broader pattern of abuses in which women and girls in Afghanistan are jailed on spurious “moral crimes” accusations, often in situations where they are fleeing forced marriage or domestic violence.

The HRW asked the government to put a halt to these arrests entirely and urged for reform and law that permits them. It said that banning all “virginity exams” could be an important first step toward reform.

The watchdog said that President Ashraf Ghani should abolish these exams by an executive order. In the order President Ghani should recognize everyone’s inherent dignity, respecting human rights, and appreciating real science over pseudo-science.

The Independent Human Rights Commission of Afghanistan has voiced concern over “virginity tests” carried out on women or girls accused of sex outside marriage, Al Jazeera reported.

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 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.